Tobacco has been in use since ancient times in different forms. Smoking of tobacco has and is always a topic of debate owing to ills effects and systemic problems. It is known that even second hand smoke is not good for your health and can even lead to genetic abnormalities. It was compelling to read reports about tobacco leaves that can contain radioactive material. This radioactive material can lead to increase in cancer among people consuming this tobacco.
What do reports reveal about radioactive material in tobacco leaves?
The tobacco leaves used in making cigarettes contain radioactive material, particularly lead-210 and polonium-210. The radionuclide content of tobacco leaves depends heavily on soil conditions and fertilizer use. Soils that contain elevated radium, lead to high radon gas emanations, affecting the surrounding tobacco crop. Radon rapidly decays into a series of solid, highly radioactive metals (radon decay products). These metals cling to dust particles, which in turn are collected by the sticky tobacco leaves. The sticky compound that seeps from the trichomes is not water soluble, so the particles do not wash off in the rain.
The major source of the polonium is phosphate fertilizer,which is used in tobacco crop. The trichomes of the leaves concentrate the polonium when tobacco is dried and processed.
What is the impact of radioactive materials on health?
Research indicates that lead-210 and polonium-210 are present in tobacco smoke as it passes into the lung. The concentration of lead-210 and polonium-210 in tobacco leaf is relatively low, however, this low concentration can accumulate into very high concentrations in the lungs of smokers.
In a person smoking 1 1/2 packs of cigarettes per day, the radiation dose to the bronchial epithelium in areas of bifurcation is 8000mrem per year — the equivalent of the dose to the skin from 300x-ray films of the chest per year. This figure is comparable to total-body exposure to natural background radiation containing 80mrem per year in the person living in the normal area.
presence of radioactive materials in the cigarettes by the manufacturers
S. Karagueuzian, an adjunct professor of cardiology, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA’s) Cardiovascular Research Laboratory, analyzed dozens of previously unexamined internal documents from the Tobacco Industry that say tobacco companies developed “deep and intimate” knowledge about the cancer-causing potential of radioactive alpha particles in cigarette smoke, but deliberately kept it from the public for more than four decades. The researchers wrote a paper about their findings that was published online on 27 September in the peer-reviewed journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
The author asserted that the documents reveal that the industry was well aware of the presence of a radioactive substance in tobacco as early as 1959, they were deliberately hiding the facts for more that 5 decades.
The researchers examined the documents that came to light in 1998 as the result of a legal settlement, the landmark 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
It was further revealed that the industry was not only well aware of the potential ‘cancerous growth’ in the lungs of regular smokers, but also did quantitative radiobiological calculations to estimate the long-term lung radiation absorption dose of ionizing alpha particles emitted from cigarette smoke.
Alpha particles do not dissolve; they bind with resins in the cigarette smoke and instead of dispersing in the lung tissue, they get stuck and collect at the branching off points of the airways forming.
The information that cigarettes may be radiation hazards will have a considerable public health impact and it is important that the awareness regarding this is spread. It is surprising to see that cigarette manufacturers, constantly, fail to acknowledge their social responsibility and hide such important fact of radiation containing substances from public domain.