Incense Smoke


There has been a flurry of news about the health risks of inhaling incense smoke coming from a recently published article in the journal Cancer. The NHS (National Health Service – UK) web site has an article on the findings of this research, which was conducted in Singapore. The following comes at the very end of the NHS article.

Incense use in this Chinese population was very high and is likely to be much higher than use in the general Western population. Additionally, the small number of people who never used incense compared to the high numbers of those who currently or formerly used it raises the possibility of error when comparing risks in the two groups.

While in East Asia I saw the practice of offering fistfuls of incense in huge incense burners. These were usually placed outside the main halls and the air was thick with the smoke. In most temples burning incense inside the temple buildings is strictly forbidden.

Out of compassion for those who suffer from multiple allergies a number of our temples use alternate forms when making offering during ceremonies. I’ve been using votive candles of late.

It make complete sense that inhaling polluted air, incense smoke laden air, will have a physical effect. What that effect will be is a matter of how much over how long. It would be a great pity, however, if burning incense became a reason why people decided not to attend Buddhist Temples….

Thanks to Ian for drawing my attention to this research. See his posting on the subject.

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One thought on “Incense Smoke”

  1. I did not read it as establishing a causal connection. Chinese Singaporeans previously had a higher incidence of gastric cancer and here too the reasons are complex. Heavy use of spice is the obvious suggestion, but maybe that hid an underlying cause. There rarely is a simple causal link in predisposition to cancers.
    Particulates from many other sources such as Diesel, would need to be discounted in a much larger study. At some of the Japanese temples, people positively bathe in the smoke, rubbing it into themselves as a symbolic healing process. Occasionally the massed incense sticks would catch fire which made for an interesting diversion.
    A different approach suited to private use is to heat small chips of aromatic woods on mica slips placed on hot charcoal. It can be a pain to accomplish (you can now cheat using an electric heater), but the smokeless aroma is very subtle and delicate, coming and going, quite unlike stick incense. The older Japanese elevated it an art form, K?d? (?? – Way of Fragrance)(Wikipedia).

    Thanks for your posts.
    In gassho

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