Health Experts: Go Easy on the Incense

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  08.26.08 | 12:54 PM ET

Photo by alexik via Flickr, (Creative Commons).

The use of incense dates back thousands of years, yet when it comes to incense in American cities these days, I associate it with Indian restaurants, yoga studios and head shops hawking bongs and tie-dye T-shirts. I also think of the glory days of the hippie trail, when young Western kids set off through Asia and, as Rory MacLean writes, “lit sticks of incense, strummed their guitars and read another chapter of Siddhartha, then stepped off the bus to help push the decrepit vehicle over the Hindu Kush.”

Now comes a report that frequent and prolonged incense use has been linked to certain types of cancers.

Thousands of Singapore Chinese were interviewed for the study. Reports U.S. News & World Report: “Incense burning almost doubled the risk of developing squamous cell upper respiratory tract carcinomas including nasal/sinus, tongue, mouth and laryngeal.”

The good news is that it seems your typical yoga-practicing, Diamond Sutra-reading, Converse All-Star-wearing bodhisattva who occasionally hits the old hippie trail and dabbles in incense use won’t necessarily suffer ill effects.

Remarked the deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society: “This is not unlike the type of risk that one experiences from secondhand tobacco smoke. At the end of the day, people who use incense casually, I don’t think that’s a cause for major concern, but those cultures which embrace incense as part of their daily lifestyles have to consider this has a real potential risk for cancer.”

3 Comments for Health Experts: Go Easy on the Incense

Julia 08.26.08 | 5:22 PM ET

Wow. For cities like Taipei, bad news indeed.

richard chatcuff 08.27.08 | 7:00 PM ET

Well, after 40 years on and off the hippie trail, incense is the least of the smoke I would worry about.

Cancer Survivor 11.02.08 | 11:21 PM ET

This is a wonderfull post, very informative just wanted to thank you for it !

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