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Smokers' lungs can help at high altitude says climbing expert

At last, some good news for smokers.

A news agency has just asked me to comment on the argument, put forward by a "climbing expert", that people who smoke are more likely to do well when climbing high peaks because smokers' lungs can cope better with high altitude.

Since I am neither a smoker nor a climber I am still considering Forest's response (if any). Any suggestions?

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Reader Comments (16)

Can't beat sitting on top on the world with a magnificent view knowing that celebratory cigarette helped you get there.

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 11:29 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I couldn't have said it better Dave. What better way to celebrate such an achievement.

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 11:50 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

That's easy, Simon.

It's currently thought to be the nitric oxide generated by combustion, also produced by our own immune systems since the dawn of time.

"Instructor in Anaesthesia Dr. Jesse D. Roberts, Jr., a member of Zapol's research group, said the discovery also explains why mountain climbers short of breath often claim that smoking cigarettes makes them stronger. The seeming paradox may be due to the presence of nitric oxide in cigarette smoke"

"And nitric oxide may only be the tip of the iceberg. The idea behind the treatment, that pollutants that are toxic in high doses are actually essential chemicals in the human body, may open a whole new world of safe drugs for other diseases.

Carbon monoxide, another toxic gas present in automobile exhaust, has also been shown to be a chemical messenger between cells, Brain said. "It's remarkable that it's escaped everyone's notice for so long," he said."

"According to Zapol, it all reduces to one simple thing. "Good things hide in pollutants and cigarettes," he said"

Nitric oxide helps high-altitude survival.

"CLEVELAND, Nov. 6 US researchers have discovered high blood levels of nitric oxide allow people to live at high altitudes where air has low levels of oxygen.

Dr. Serpil Erzurum, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Pathobiology, and colleagues from Case Western Reserve University analyzed blood samples and blood flow readings from 88 Tibetans living at altitudes of 14,000 feet. They compared the measurements with those of 50 people who live at locations near sea level.

The Tibetans were found to have 10 times more nitric oxide and more than double the forearm blood flow of sea-level dwellers.

The researchers said they believe the high levels of nitric oxide cause an increased blood flow that provides body tissues with sufficient amounts of oxygen despite low levels of oxygen in both the air and the bloodstream."

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 12:11 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

You'd better get your skates on, Simon - Duffy's already on the case:

You've got to love her comment "I’m not aware of any research on smoking at high altitudes." Since when has a lack of research ever held her back?

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 13:54 | Unregistered CommenterRick S

Once they find out, no doubt they will crow that even the top of remote mountains should be smoke free - just in case one day she decides to climb it

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 15:14 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Very interesting Rose 2. I wonder if this has anything to do with some asthma sufferers finding that smoking a cigarette at the onset of an attack helps them to not have such a severe attack?

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 21:26 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

Arn't we all missing a good point here?

Smokers are climbing to the very top of the peaks of the highest mountains in the world, even if they are getting on a bit, while the non-smokers are falling by hthe wayside!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 21:34 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

From deadline news:
But Sheila Duffy, of anti-smoking campaign group ASH Scotland, said: “I would say smoking would be more likely to hinder you.

“When you smoke you’re taking in carbon dioxide and you’re taking in a range of poisons.

“Carbon dioxide replaces oxygen and binds more readily to the blood.”

Carbon monoxide - yes. Carbon dioxide - no dear! What an expert!

Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 22:35 | Unregistered CommenterTony

LOL We smokers are depicted as unable to climb a flight of stairs let alone a mountain

Friday, December 30, 2011 at 8:17 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce


It might well, and does according to some studies.
Looking at the newly discovered properties of nitric oxide is quite fascinating, the scientists seem to have been working on it for over 20 twenty years.

From what I've read,the problem seems to be that it's a very short lived molecule and has to be used instantly.

So it would appear that smokers have unwittingly been carrying primitive light weight portable nitric oxide generators up mountains for years.

Friday, December 30, 2011 at 9:48 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

If you do find yourself on top of a mountain, according to a fairly recent study, it appears that nitric oxide might help you work out how to get back down.

Nitric Oxide Can Alter Brain Function

"Research from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester shows that nitric oxide (NO) can change the computational ability of the brain."

"Nitric oxide is a chemical messenger which cannot be stored and can rapidly diffuse across cell membranes to act at remote sites (in contrast to conventional neurotransmitters which cannot pass across cell membranes).

"It is broadly localized in the central nervous system, where it influences synaptic transmission and contributes to learning and memory mechanisms"

Friday, December 30, 2011 at 10:16 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

Viagra, the drug found to aid men with potency problems, works by increasing the generation of nitric oxide. One of the effects of raised levels of nitric oxide is vasodilation (opening up blood vessels) which improves peripheral blood flow.
Now we are told that smoking increases nitric oxide levels which, according to the medico porn on cigarette packets and the ranting of the anits, causes impotence and restricted peripheral blood flow leading to ischemia and possibly loss of limbs.
Someone has it wrong, unless, in the teeth of all pharmacological knowledge a single molecule can have two diametrically opposing effects on the same tissue at one and the same time.

Friday, December 30, 2011 at 12:46 | Unregistered Commenterheretic

"Carbon monoxide - yes. Carbon dioxide - no dear! What an expert !"

Now, now,Tony - you're being far too picky with the lovely lady's science.

The key word here, of course, is CARBON. And everyone knows that this element is the most toxic thing on the planet. In fact, it destroys all life - everywhere (even plants, I hear). After all, governments wouldn't tax it if it was good for you, would they ?

Ask any schoolchild !

Monday, January 2, 2012 at 6:45 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

There is no way a regular smoker benefits at high altitude. I was a smoker for 35+ years, and just flying in to Denver would kill my air intake, and skiing at higher elevations like Steamboat Springs would limit me to 45 minutes of skiing per day.. After I quit - say, 3 years, my return to Denver and altitudes of 10,000 on the MT to ski...MUCH better ability. I could ski the enire day, and go out to play till 2. My query is whether a cig or two during ascent is actually helpful.

Now, I might believe that a smoke or two for a non smoker might be benificial at really high altitudes, there is no way I would buy into "smokers are better extreme altitude climbers."

Monday, August 15, 2016 at 1:38 | Unregistered CommenterTDG

If I was capable of reaching the summit of a renowned mountain's peak it would be needless to say that I have spent a long time training for such a feat. Regardless if I was a smoker or not, if I trained myself with limitations my training might be harder, but not impossible. Now if smoking was the factor of limitation to the "devil" in question, you cannot compare me to a smoker who never trained as an athlete. I feel like these mountaineers who benefitted from smoking were atheletes first. Smoking is just something they did as well.

Friday, December 23, 2016 at 5:23 | Unregistered CommenterDevils advocate

About two years ago I hiked in the RMNP for the first time with my boyfriend. We hiked to Dream Lake and even though I smoke a pack a day, I wasn't really out of breath or anything. I also had no sickness from the elevation changes and felt okay overall.

Friday, September 22, 2017 at 18:14 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

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