Although it takes more than a puff to cause disease, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh were surprised to find how little smoke it took to cause initial damage.
William Saunders and his colleagues studied the effects of real cigarette smoke on human fibroblasts – common cells found in the connective tissues that hold much of the body together.
They exposed batches of growing cells to liquefied cigarette smoke and saw the chromosomes that carry the DNA being pulled apart from both ends.
"Double-stranded breaks are considered the most mutagenic type of DNA damage because the broken ends can fuse to other chromosomes in the cell," Saunders said on Friday.
This happened with very small amounts of smoke, Saunders said.
Cigarette smoking is known to cause lung cancer and is also linked to bladder, larynx and esophageal cancers, as well as heart diseases.
"Unfortunately, no amount of scientific evidence arguing against smoking will get everyone to stop or not begin to smoke in the first place. So, perhaps one long-term goal should be to develop cigarettes that somehow prevent what we've seen happen to the cells in our lab," Saunders said.