Reducing tobacco’s harm

Masonic Scholar and public health faculty member Lisa Peterson, Ph.D., is dedicated to lessening the damage caused by cigarettes and is currently focused on two approaches to address these issues.

The first tactic that Peterson and her team are using is to examine how chemicals in tobacco smoke interact with each other to form carcinogenic mixtures with life-threatening side effects. Their recent discoveries include: 

  • Lisa Peterson Finding that when a tobacco carcinogen called nitrosonornicotine was combined with a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is in both tobacco and alcoholic beverages, the number of esophageal tumors in rats doubled. This ongoing work will shed light on how these two chemicals interact to cause esophageal cancer in people. It may also illuminate why drinking and tobacco use increases esophageal cancer risk.
  •  Learning that furan, which is present in tobacco smoke, air pollution, and food, is toxic to both the lungs and liver when inhaled.

Peterson’s team is also examining how people differ in their response to DNA-damaging effects of tobacco smoke chemicals. Using cell lines from more than 60 individuals, they are testing whether variations in genes that normally aid in DNA repair play a significant role in one’s risk of developing cancer.  

Ultimately, Peterson’s work is helping to inform how government entities regulate tobacco products and chemicals in order to reduce harm to people.

“This funding has been invaluable for supporting our acquisition of preliminary data on how combinations of chemicals in tobacco smoke cause toxicity. This in turn has strengthened our justification for new research, which will lead to cancer prevention.”


Lisa Peterson
Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPDs) such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema make it difficult to breathe and can cause irreversible... Read more
Turesky researchers
Robert Turesky, inaugural holder of the Masonic Chair in Cancer Causation, is on a mission: to get cancer-causing chemicals in food, drinks, and... Read more
Andrew Nelson
Andrew Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., Masonic Scholar and laboratory medicine and pathology faculty member, is dedicated to understanding the biological... Read more