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Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 00:25 GMT 01:25 UK
Irish minister links incense to cancer

By James Helm
BBC Dublin correspondent

An Irish Government minister has warned that burning incense in churches could be harmful to the altar boys and girls who help Roman Catholic priests celebrate mass.

Burning incense in a church
The burning of incense is popular in Roman Catholic churches
Jim McDaid, who is a former family doctor, said the children were at risk because they inhaled the carcinogenic smoke produced when incense is burnt close by.

"Here you have quite a thick billowing type of smoke. Sometimes you see the children with this instrument which is down normally around their ankles, and the smoke just keeps coming up," Dr McDade said.

"And sometimes I cringe when I see them literally inhaling this, because sometimes there is an aroma of it and all I was trying to do was making people aware."

A spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland said she was not aware of a study about the effects of incense, but that she would be looking into the matter.

Smoking debate

Incense has a ceremonial use in a number of churches.

The burning of incense is an age-old element of religious tradition. Its wafting scent adds a mystical dimension to proceedings.

In Ireland's Roman Catholic churches today, it is mainly burnt at funerals.

There is widespread debate in Ireland about the health effects of inhaling smoke.

The government is proposing a ban on smoking in the workplace, including pubs, from January.

Incense link to cancer
02 Aug 01  |  Health

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