Bad idea: Sick sticks

Apparently, cigarettes aren't all that good for you. Which may not come as the most enormous shock, what with the half-century that's already been spent looking into the 50 or so diseases to which tobacco is linked. What is more surprising is that somebody has found something new that's bad about the filthy weed. If Amy Sapkota's thesis is right, you don't even need to light up to be at risk.

Sapkota, an environmental health scientist at the University of Maryland, has done a delightful bit of research into tobacco's bacterial content. Better known for killing things, tobacco may also make a good home to an impressive range of germs. Examining cigarettes made by three major tobacco companies, Sapkota found evidence of hundreds of bacteria strains. Signs of germs that cause pneumonia, food poisoning and urinary infections - plus several types of staphylococcus, which causes a range of localised infections - were all present. Smoking is often linked to respiratory infections; the research suggests there's more to it than just impaired immunity. Even holding a cigarette may be enough to catch something nasty.

Is the study conclusive? No. It doesn't prove the presence of live bacteria, or how levels compare to those you'd find in, say, cabbage, or other plant matter. But is it disgusting? Oh yes. Almost upsetting enough to make you want a nice, relaxing . . .

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Everything you know about Islam is wrong