If I drink this, will I die?
June 7, 2014 8:41 AM   Subscribe

I've heard that consuming products that have been smoked can increase cancer risk. I've recently started to regularly drink several cups a day of Lapsang Souchong, a smoked tea. I am an ex-smoker so I am concerned that my risk for certain cancers is already elevated. I am having difficulty finding information on if there are any potential cancer risks from drinking this tea and if so, if they are significant enough that I should consider cutting back the amount I am drinking.
posted by Drinky Die to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i think you're ok. the risk of smoking, where the carcinogens in tar come in contact with lung tissue, is much greater than tea drinking. this is why you are having difficulty finding information, because there are a lot of people drinking this tea with no statistically significant ill-effects.

single malt whisky is made from malted barley smoked in peat. the smoke part isn't the primary health hazard. then there is bacon...
posted by bruce at 9:20 AM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pop science writing on this stuff tends to be pretty sloppy about effect sizes, and that matters. Smoking tobacco doesn't just increase cancer risk — it massively increases it. 90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking, and your risk of lung cancer is 25 times greater if you smoke than if you don't. Smoking consistently ranks as one of the top causes of preventable death. The risks from eating smoked food are far, far smaller, and you'll drive yourself crazy if you lose sight of that.

(Note: even if an article tells you that eating smoked food makes "a significant difference" in your risk of cancer, that does not mean it makes a large difference. Tiny, tiny differences can be statistically significant. Rather than interpreting that phrase as meaning "a big difference," you should interpret it as meaning "a difference, possibly a tiny one, that we're still pretty sure isn't coincidental.")

It is possible that drinking smoked tea is making a minuscule difference in your chances of dying prematurely. But you almost certainly have other habits that are far more dangerous. Do you drink more than moderately? Do you drive a car? How much exercise do you get? Worry about that stuff instead if you need something to worry about.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:45 AM on June 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

All smoke carries carcinogens (source, source) but the types and amounts of carcinogens vary based on the fuel and the amount of oxygen present, and the effects of eating smoked food is less straightforward (sorry for the quorra link, but it seemed to have the best summary I could find). As with just about anything, in moderation, you will probably be fine; I very much doubt that the smoke from your tea would approach anywhere near the risk from smoking tobacco.
posted by Aleyn at 10:23 AM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

What bruce and nebualawindphone said.

As someone who drinks a lot of tea (though lapsang only occasionally) I think my health concern in general is more with the possibility of pesticide residue in some tea leaves, rather than the smoked nature of lapsang souchong. Buy from reliable tea companies, like Harney, Upton, Grace, etc.. Buy organic if available. Also, fortunately most of the tea growing areas of China are not areas with a lot of air pollution at least.

Anecdotally, my husband's great aunt drank a pot of Hu-Kwa tea daily in the afternoon, and lived well into her '90's. (It is tasty if you like smokey tea.)

(By the way, if you like lapsang, try some of the so-called "Russian Caravan" blends, which are also smokey.)
posted by gudrun at 10:27 AM on June 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also bear in mind that most studies or articles that talk about the risks of "smoked products" are including e.g. salamis and other meats, where a standard servings size is probably at least a few hundred grams. People who eat a lot of "smoked foods" are probably eating hundreds of grams of smoked food a day.

Tea, on the other hand, has a serving size of a couple of grams, as most of the product is water. So I don't think it would be humanly possible to consume enough smoked tea to put yourself in the same risk demographic as someone who eats a lot of smoked food.
posted by lollusc at 7:39 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

One time when shopping at Whole Foods I asked the guy in the fish department what seasoning was popular and he directed me to some sort of powdered smoke (or something like that). I was surprised they even sold that because I, like you, assumed that such a product was carcinogenic. Whole Foods has a list of Unacceptable Ingredients for Food, which I presume is fairly strict, so I contacted them to ask why smoke products were not on the list, and they basically told me because they are not known to be carcinogenic. I just wanted to share that information - you can make of it what you want.
posted by Dansaman at 11:20 PM on June 8, 2014

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