Carbon monoxide displaces oxygen from the blood. The blood has an affinity for carbon monoxide 300 times that for oxygen.
The carbon monoxide level in a non-smoker's breath is about 5 parts per million. The level found in smokers can be 10 - 15 times this.
Carbon monoxide is found in coal gas. It is not present in North Sea gas nor in diesel fumes. It is a component of the fumes from poorly ventilated gas or coke stoves and water heaters.
Carbon monoxide is measured using a Bedfont Smokerlyser. Blowing into the machine through a cardboard tube until there is no more breath left ensures that the last puff is captured for analysis. This last puff is in equilibrium with the blood.
Figures for Great Britain in 1996/7 indicate that 21 people died and a further 90 suffered ill-health as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.(402, 403)
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