It seems like common sense that breathing most incense smoke might not be good for you and that opening a window, especially if you’re smudging, might be a good idea, but I don’t think people are aware that it affects them as badly as cigarette smoke does — I certainly wasn’t — and that burning incense on charcoal is much worse than burning incense sticks or cones.
Adding to the concern is that charcoal briquettes frequently are used to ignite and burn the incense. That adds significantly to potentially harmful levels of carbon monoxide and other pollutants, they noted.
While it doesn’t seem to contribute to lung cancer, it does contribute to other respiratory tract cancers, which is worrisome.
And while we’re on the topic, our old friend paraffin wax, which makes up the majority of candles made and burned, as well as all of the 7 day or novena-style candles on the market, is also bad for you.
My Buddhist tradition advocates burning incense and candles daily as offerings, and while I would love to use only beeswax candles (I do for Freyr, at least), I use standard paraffin tealights for the daily offerings because they’re what I can afford.
I’ve been looking into the cost of making my own soy candles, or using oil lamps instead, but things have been hectic. If we move somewhere where we cannot have cats, likely I will buy some oil lamps that keep the oil enclosed.
In the summer, where we live, I can only burn and light things in this room, which is unbearable without a fan on, and the fan affects the candles enough that I tend not to use them unless I have to (such as for Brand’s wedding).
Stick incense where I can burn only a small amount of it at a time is what I generally prefer, because this space is small and it doesn’t take much, either to be a good offering or to perfume/cleanse a room.
As an alternative to smudging that is very effective, nonetheless, is using a spray made with the essential oil of sage. I can attest to its ability to clear all sorts of gunk from a room.