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Credit: Ryan Racca; Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Despite a trend of decreasing rates of cigarette smoking among American adults, still almost 1 in 5 Americans (17.8%) currently smoke. [Worldwide prevalence of tobacco use is around 21%, although that rate varies greatly by area and demographic.]

As someone who has never smoked cigarettes, this number baffles me—despite the public health campaigns, despite the well-documented dangers of smoking, that many people still decide to do so?

Call it culture, call it not worrying about the future, call it whatever you want—it doesn’t matter, because people will still smoke.

So why not try to at least clean up their act?

Researchers at Korea Institute of Science and Technology have developed a non-smokers dream—a nanocatalyst that alleviates air of carcinogens and particulates from cigarette smoke.

According to the KIST press release, the catalyst removes 100% of the carcinogens acetaldehyde and nicotine and 100% of particle substances (such as tar) from a room filled with cigarette smoke.

Although acetaldehyde is the predominant carcinogen in smoke, cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 other chemical compounds. Of those, 10% are known carcinogens. [Considering other compounds aren’t mentioned in the press release, I’m doubting that 100% of those are removed from smoky air, too.]

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The filter, a ceramic-based media encased with a Mn/TiO2 nanocatalyst powder coating, uses oxygen free radicals to break down the harmful compounds in cigarette smoke.

Ozone decomposition on the nanocatalyst generates oxygen free radicals, which then react with compounds in cigarette smoke to oxidize and neutralize them, generating harmless water and carbon dioxide in the process.

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Schematic of how ozone decomposition on the nanocatalyst generates oxygen free radicals, which then oxidize harmful compounds in cigarette smoke. Credit: KIST

According to the release, the KIST team fabricated a prototype air cleaner using the nanocatalyst filter and tested the device in a 30-m2 smoking room filled with 10 puffing smokers. “About 80% of cigarette smoke elements were processed and decomposed to water vapor and carbon dioxide within 30 minutes, and 100% of them within 1 hour. The test condition was designed based on the processing capacity which could circulate the air inside the entire 30 square meter smoking room once every 15 minutes.”

The team anticipates about a year is needed to commercialize the technology.

Lead researcher Jongsoo Jurng adds in the release that “this research holds a significance since the new air cleaning equipment based on a simple catalyst successfully processes and removes gaseous materials in cigarette smoke, which are not easily removed with the existing air cleaning technologies. If the new equipment can be simplified and is economically feasible, it will be an important tool for keeping smoking room pleasant and clean. Also, from the convergence perspective, the new nanometer catalyst filter can be integrated with other air cleaning products such as air purifiers and air conditioners.”

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The KIST team put their prototype air filter to work in a smoking room. Credit: KIST