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Big Tobacco Knowingly Dosed Smokers With Radiation For Decades

September 30, 2011 by  

Big Tobacco Knowingly Dosed Smokers With Radiation For Decades

A University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study of big tobacco intercompany documents released in a 1998 legal settlement — the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement — shows that tobacco companies tried to keep information discovered in 1959 about radioactive substances in their products quiet for decades.

“The documents show that the industry was well aware of the presence of a radioactive substance in tobacco as early as 1959,” the authors write. “Furthermore, the industry was not only cognizant 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.”

The study says that tobacco company research identified the radioactive substance as polonium-210 in 1969. The isotope can be found in all foreign and domestic cigarette brands as a byproduct of tobacco crop development.

The tobacco industry has not only been aware of the isotope since 1959, but has also known of two processes by which it can be eliminated, says the study.  One technique, developed in 1980 and called acid washing, was found to be highly effective in removing the isotope from tobacco plants, where it forms a water-insoluble complex with the sticky, hair-like structures called trichomes that cover the leaves. The tobacco industry allegedly shunned the process because it was also shown to have an impact on the levels of the content of nicotine in tobacco, the drug which keeps smokers hooked.

“The industry was concerned that the acid media would ionize the nicotine, making it more difficult to be absorbed into the brains of smokers and depriving them of that instant nicotine rush that fuels their addiction,” said one researcher.

The study comes out just two years after 2009 passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which grants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration broad authority to regulate and remove harmful substances besides nicotine from tobacco products. The study’s authors hope that their research will be taken into account by the FDA as it attempts to regulate tobacco safety.

Sam Rolley

Staff writer Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After learning about many of the biases present in most modern newsrooms, Rolley became determined to find a position in journalism that would allow him to combat the unsavory image that the news industry has gained. He is dedicated to seeking the truth and exposing the lies disseminated by the mainstream media at the behest of their corporate masters, special interest groups and information gatekeepers.

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  • s c

    This is a good article, Sam. However, when I got to the article’s end, you added that ‘the FDA will be attempting to regulate tobacco safely.’ I couldn’t help laughing, Sam.
    I’m no power-mad progressive (socialist, communist, etc.) who poses as a tobacco industry ‘leader,’ but as long as crud gets into tobacco products (especially cigarettes), it means that American smokers are royally screwed. Expecting the FDA to do its job is no different than hoping that an Al Capone would change his self-centered habits and see the many errors of his organized crime ways.
    The two choices are 1) keep crap out of tobacco or 2) stop smoking cigarettes. By the way, include lobbyists and people who get tobacco subsidies in this scenario. And, throw in Congress and lawyers. Like I said, American smokers are royally screwed.

  • Dan

    Radioactive substance as polonium-210 is a naturally occurring radon and is found in fertilizer and food products. External exposure to polonium-210 is considered more lethal than internal. Smoking tobacco products is reported to introduce more polonium-210 to our system than ingesting it through food. I only see this report as another attack on tobacco which we have basically run out of the country and destroyed our jobs in the industry and now it’s grown in countries with a whole lot less regulations and controls.

    • Papa

      My Grandfather, a lifelong smoker died at the age of 96 — no lung cancer…

      My Father, a lifelong smoker died at the age of 74 from heat stroke — no lung cancer…

      My Mother, a lifelong smoker died at the age of 84 — no lung cancer…

      Myself, a lifelong smoker now 70 — no sign of lung cancer…

      Looks to me like this “polonium-210″ isn’t very dangerous after all…

      • WickedPickle

        I hear you “Papa says”.. I too have been in a family that smoked for 50 – 60 years without incident but that doesn’t hold back the whiners who are now accusing us the smokers of killing them (the non-smokers) with our gawd awful second hand smoke. In my opinion this is merely another second-hand ‘smoke’ screen instigated by the g’ment who makes us want to believe their working in our interests while reaping the tax benefits of these same smokers. If their working in our interests the why is it related to financial profit (taxes on these cigarettes).. Who benefits from this continual windfall? Certainly not the people with this higher medical premiums and more taxation.. Their spreading the word? To whom? Just like the locks on your doors, their there to ward off the people who would never think to burgle you as it doesn’t effect the burglars who will do it regardless. So they spend (what the report as) millions of dollars giving us commercials of old, decrepit men in wheel chairs on the last leg of existence whether it has to do with smoking or not and supposed scare pic of black lungs and dead people with holes in their necks (that people get whether they smoke or have been around a smoker or not.. It’s unprovable and that’s where these scare mongers differentiate what they deem real and fantasy. They say smokers don’t know what their doing so their going to make the choice for them knowing full well that when we go totally smoke free in this Country they’ll have to start putting pressure on the imbiber probably Leakey that the vapors of the drink effects non-drinkers around them then show proof of the tens of thousands of non-drinkers who die of liver disease yearly.. The stats are (at one reading) that 25,000 people died from lung and other ‘known’ smoker disease but let’s put this into perspective.. Of the approx. 250,000.000 smokers today, what is this percentage? Insignificant so the big wigs say.. Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died trying to breach a less than 10 mile plot of land, why the g’ment thought it was worth it? To save millions? That’s an assumption since millions didn’t die. No, it was considered ‘acceptable’ in order to build a airfield closer to their enemies (who today are now our friends but don’t rile them too much else they’ll become our enemies again). If you want to rid America of the right to smoke cigarettes (and later maybe liquor) then MAKE the g’ment outlaw any and all chemical additives in tobacco products instead of… regulating how much poison they can allow in cigarettes!!.. The g’ment can do this, we’ve given them this power, yet they sit back enjoying their kick backs and subsidies and out of control tax implementations (no matter what the hell they want to legally call it) and watch the masses split and destroy each other with hate that’s instigated by their own g’ment. I don’t smoke in public, do not smoke in theaters, restaurants or anywhere groups of people meet.. I smoke in my own house on my own land and STILL I (we) are looked down at.. And if you readers think I’m a big blowhard too then that’s your problem.

      • Alfie

        Hey, Papa – don’t you realize that the government does not want this kind of data collected? This type of data was never statistically compiled – they wanted doctors’ offices to compile data only on smokers – your data doesn’t support what governmental goals: More control and $$$, the destruction of another industry in the U.S.; and further erosion of individual freedoms and rights of choice. Consider: Scientists obtain grant money from the government. The NIH decides which grants to fund. And guess who’s driving that boat?

      • paul

        add me to your list Papa…lifelong smoker..age 66. no sign of lung cancer

    • Dan az

      Ya know you bring up a good point that nobody seems to grasp.That if this stuff was what made cancer so prevalent then the problem isn’t in the smoking its in the growing.Now if all fertilizer like you said has this in it then wouldn’t you hazard a guess that all food also has it?And that’s why there has been people coming down with cancer’s that don’t smoke.So if they did clean it up then it would be safer than eating.I would love to see them take out nicotine just because it would make it allot easier for me to stop smoking,do to the outrageous cost that they put on it.I always felt that if they needed to do this to me then they should do it to the drinkers sense I don’t drink,but allot of congressmen do.Let them share the burden of lining there greedy pockets.Seems fair to me.And for the ones that don’t drink and smoke I think they should pay for breathing smoke free air,I guess that’s next with the cap and trade anyway.

  • AJ

    Where’s the smokers protection from our ulustrious Big Government? And who profits on the ill health of the smoker? Seems everything is pointing to causing Cancer these days rather than curing it.

  • death to non belivers

    from a business poit of view, does it make any sense to kill your customers off faster then just smoking tobacco would. what board room, profit motivated genius, would propose to irridate our customers too? no one, its another ploy to place more restrictions on tobacco, to collect more taxes from those companies and tobacco farmers. if everyone in our country suddenly stopped smokeing, how high will your taxes have go up
    to make up for this gigantic los of revenue ?
    if tobacco is so bad, just make it illegal, similar to prohibition.

  • Chris

    LMAO….most of you people must be seriously brain dead.

    • eddie47d

      You think so Chris. It’s always amazing how they will defend big business even while they are poisoning us. Then they are against taxes before they are in favor of them as in the tobacco tax. I think I’ll keep my health instead of accepting the continual tobacco lies or their tax revenue.

      • Papa


        Don’t smoke!

        That’s your choice…

        • http://naver samurai

          It is definately the healthier one. I agree with you on this one Ed. FOR GOD AND COUNTRY!

          • Skptk

            The problem, samurai, is that you and ed want to take away that choice, i.e. liberty. Every Nazi I know is in favor of liberty, as long as it’s a liberty of which they approve.

          • http://naver samurai

            You lie too much. You must be a commie or lib. You should watch out using the word Nazi, since your obviously pea sized lib brain has no idea what the Nazis were. Don’t forget the the word socialist is in their title. Yes, this makes them to the left of center. Ergo, those to the left of center want to take away our God given freedoms and liberties. Sorry, but it seems that you have lost this time. FOR GOD AND COUNTRY!

  • slapjack

    I wondered why I glowed in the dark. It either had to be Agent Orange or Cigarette’s!!!!!!!!!!! God Bless our Government???????????????

  • Earl, QUEENS, NY

    Regardless of how one feels about tobacco, why let emotions stand in the way of good judgment?? I don’t advocate that people smoke, but I believe in liberty, and Americans should have the freedom to decide which risks to take or not take. I’m also tired of all the double talk and fear mongering we hear from do-gooders, leftists, statist Democraps, etc. who seem to go out of their way to nitpick and find fault with everything which Americans enjoy.

    Again we hear them say that smoking kills 400,000+ Americans each year. Yet I never hear them break down that number into age groups. My guess is that doing so would indicate the majority of deaths are at an age at which the victims will face death panels and get the shaft under Obamacare (which needs to be repealed – yesterday or sooner!!) even if they never smoked. And I bet very few, if any, deaths are before the age of 20 or 30. YES!! They also like to demagogue by saying they care about kids!! Absolute nonsense!!!! These liberal morons always rant about the tobacco and fast food industries, whose products could harm kids later in their adult years. If they really cared about kids, wouldn’t they instead go after the abortion industry?? Abortions outnumber tobacco deaths 2 to 1!! Thanks to the “Roe vs. Wade” ruling by the SCOTUS, abortions kill nearly a million more kids than the tobacco and fast food industries combined!! Think about it, nearly a million infants die long before they can smoke their first cigarette or eat their first Big Mac!! And let’s not forget the environmentalist wacko fascists. Thanks to the ban on DDT, millions of children have needlessly died of malaria. These democraps/ statists could care less about kids!!!!

    • http://N/A Mary Arledge

      I’m with you on the abortion problem in our country. If they are for abortion, how can we expect them look out for our health on down the line? “The hearts of many shall grow cold” That sure starts to the trend of getting rid of older people before their time.

    • Skptk

      Actually, they’re very careful (usually) to say X number die “of smoking-related diseases”. Since so many diseases have been “linked” to smoking, every non-smoker who dies of heart disease or stroke is also counted, and provides the additional benefit of an example of the dangers of “second-hand smoke”.
      If you find yourself opposed to something other people consider their freedom, maybe you should re-examine your principles to see if you are living up to them.

      • http://naver samurai

        That is utter nonsense! Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, doesn’t mean the are taking away your liberties. BTW, these liberties we have are gifts from God and only he can take them away. What and idiot to not know that. Need to go back down into your mother’s basement skeptic. FOR GOD AND COUNTRY!

    • Dan az

      Hey Earl
      I agree that this genocide of our unborn is beyond crazy,But ya gotta think that the ones that are getting them are the libs and progs.So to that extent I say there numbers are decreasing daily and there to stupid to realize it.Maybe we should tax them say 100 thousand per abortion,cash up front of course.It would only be fair.What comes around goes around.

      • http://naver samurai

        Very well said, fellow patriot! FOR GOD AND COUNTRY!

  • E Nuff

    If they fact is that this radon is a by-product the headline is false the tobacco isn’t “dosed”, This is totally desceptive designed to villify a large industry and give impression the BIG ASS Government FDA is here to save the day.

  • Dale on the left coast

    Low level radiation is EVERYWHERE . . . read a piece, from Japan, where workers in the Nuclear Plants were studied, and found they suffered fewer ailments than those in other industries. They are subject to a small dose every day, and it was thought that this could be beneficial. Did the radiation kill bacteria and viruses? Could be!!

  • Dale on the left coast

    Somebody should study “California Universities” and figure out why they always come to “Insane Conclusions” on things like Gorebull Warming, Tobacco, Oil and Freedoms. Could it be because the folks just get too much Sun or too much medicinal mary-jane!!!

  • chuckb

    dale, it’s the latter

  • Mac

    Question left hanging – do today’s tobacco products get acid-washed, or is the process still not used? The Wikipedia article on Po-210 references a Japanese study of dietary/internal consumption of various foods that contain trace amounts of all kinds of radioactive elements. My conclusion (not necessarily that of the study) is that eating a lot of seafood may be as bad as smoking, as far as radioactive intake goes.

    • coal miner


      Big Tobacco Companies Covered Up Radiation Dangers From Smoking
      By CiglessBot

      Tobacco companies have covered up for 40 years the fact that cigarette smoke contains a dangerous radioactive substance that exposes heavy smokers to the radiation equivalent of having 300 chest X-rays a year.

      Internal company records reveal that cigarette manufacturers knew that tobacco contained polonium-210 but avoided drawing public attention to the fact for fear of “waking a sleeping giant”.

      Polonium-210 emits alpha radiation estimated to cause about 11,700 lung cancer deaths each year worldwide. Russian dissident and writer Alexander Litvinenko died after being poisoned with polonium-210 in 2006.

      The polonium-210 in tobacco plants comes from high-phosphate fertilisers used on crops. The fertiliser is manufactured from rocks that contain radioisotopes such as polonium-210 (PO-210).
      The radioactive substance is absorbed through the plant’s roots and deposited on its leaves.

      People who smoke one-and-a-half packets of cigarettes a day are exposed to as much radiation as they would receive from 300 chest X-rays a year, according to research.

      New health warning labels such as “Cigarettes are a major source of radiation exposure” have been urged by the authors of a study published in this month’s American Journal of Public Health.

      “This wording would capitalise on public concern over radiation exposure and increase the impact of cigarette warning labels,” the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University authors say.

      Quit Victoria executive director Fiona Sharkie said Australian tobacco companies were not legally obliged to reveal the levels of chemicals contained in cigarettes. This made it difficult to know exactly how damaging PO-210 was and meant it was impossible to know what effect it had on other poisons contained in cigarettes.

      “It (PO-210) is obviously highly toxic and we applaud any efforts to publicise the dangers,” she said. “But the industry needs to be better regulated before we can support specific warnings.”

      Inhalation tests have shown that PO-210 is a cause of lung cancer in animals. It has also been estimated to be responsible for 1% of all US lung cancers, or 1600 deaths a year.

      The US authors analysed 1500 internal tobacco company documents, finding that tobacco companies conducted scientific studies on removing polonium-210 from cigarettes but were unable to do so. “Documents show that the major transnational cigarette manufacturers managed the potential public relations problem of PO-210 in cigarettes by avoiding any public attention to the issue.”

      Philip Morris even decided not to publish internal research on polonium-210 which was more favourable to the tobacco industry than previous studies for fear of heightening public awareness of PO-210.

      Urging his boss not to publish the results, one scientist wrote: “It has the potential of waking a sleeping giant.” Tobacco company lawyers played a key role in suppressing information about the research to protect the companies from litigation.

      The journal authors, led by Monique Muggli, of the nicotine research program at the Mayo Clinic, say: “The internal debate, carried on for the better part of a decade, involved most cigarette manufacturers and pitted tobacco researchers against tobacco lawyers. The lawyers prevailed.

      “Internal Philip Morris documents suggest that as long as the company could avoid having knowledge of biologically significant levels of PO-210 in its products, it could ignore PO-210 as a possible cause of lung cancer.”

      Source: William Birnbauer,

      • Papa

        WOW! This stuff causes a whole “1%” of the deaths of smokers?


        If we all listen to “PROGRESSIVES” we might as well just commit suicide and get it over with. SOMETHING or other is going to kill EACH AND EVERYONE OF US because people just don’t live forever…

  • mae

    why is tobacco so addtive? it’s harder to stop smoking tobacco than to quit drugs.

    • JON

      Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco smoke that causes smokers to continue to smoke. Addicted smokers need enough nicotine over a day to ‘feel normal’ – to satisfy cravings or control their mood. How much nicotine a smoker needs determines how much smoke they are likely to inhale, no matter what type of cigarette they smoke.

      Along with nicotine, smokers also inhale about 4,000 other chemicals in cigarette smoke. Many of these chemicals come from burning tobacco leaf. Some of these compounds are chemically active and trigger profound and damaging changes in the body.

      There are over 60 known cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, causing many diseases and reducing health in general.

      People are free to choose to smoke. At today’s prices, cigarettes are a very expensive choice.

  • jay Lindberg

    Let me get this straight.

    Polonium is a byproduct of uranium.

    Now the only way I can see it getting into our tobacco supplies is through fertilizers.

    The only way that could happen is if the tobacco industry was using low level radioactive waste in those fertilizers.

    Will someone please explain how this assessment is incorrect?

    I think you are missing the bigger picture here.

    Jay Lindberg

  • Buck

    Remember all the money given to tobacco farmers to stopdepending on their tobacco crop for income ? Well , now it is time to pay off ALL smokers and past smokers for deceiving them into smoking radioactive cigarettes . We can get the money from Obamas private stash as that famous Obama voter exclaimed .

  • jim capy

    MAke pot legal it has to be a lot safer than radio active big tobacco.

  • Lawrence Derby

    CBR says Coccidiosis in animals is contagious to humans, and manifests it’s self as granulomas, or tumors in the respitory tract(I.E. lung cancer). Serious Radiation burns can cause wild erratic regrowth of cells, somwhat like, but not to be confused with cancer. Your more apt to get lung cancer from eating an under cooked steak, pork chop, or chicken than from smoking. The world isn’t flat, the sky isn’t falling, and the ocean levels dropped 1/4 inch a year for the last two years in a row.

  • http://Microsoft Rosabel Baldwin

    There are other ‘fallouts’ besides dying from cigarettes. I never had a battle with smokers. I just didn’t want to smoke myself. As the only female in a building with all males and all smokers, I would suffer terribly from the massive second hand smoke to the point I would be vomiting by afternoon. In my campaign for ‘clean air’ for myself, I became a target from management of the powerhouse down to the mechanics. For 8 years I was a pariah. All because I wanted clean air for me to breathe. I was pushed here and there, my office equipment taken outside…taken to the main building..and me a shop steward, and my union wouldn’t help me.
    Long story short, my supervisor left because he couldn’t ‘burn’ me out of my job, and three employees died of lung cancer. They were chain smokers. I am now retired, and the company has a ‘hands off’ regarding cigarettes where an employee is forbidden to smoke even outside if they are on company property. High cost to pay for the ‘bullyboys’ who feel they coudln’t give up their macho lifestyle of smoking. But, clean air won out, and hopefully the next generation of employees will live longer than the former ones.

    • Dan az

      If you had worked for me I would have just fired you for being a liberal progressive whining snot.Do you still feel that you were in the right?It’s people like you that have made life miserable for everyone else.You had the right to leave but you refused so now a minority of one made the rules for the majority and you think that’s right.Why not go to a country that best suits your needs say cuba.

    • http://naver sook young

      I do not smoke and know what cigarette smoke can do to the body. It is good that you stuck to your convictions and showed that you were a strong woman. If someone comes to our house and they smoke, we ask them to step outside and smoke. Thank you.

      Sook Young
      Wife of the Samurai

  • http://personallibertydigest mike

    I am 50 years old and began smoking at 20.I knew 30yrs ago smoking was
    bad for you then and I know it now.But I thought in tthe U.S.A. I had a choice.If you look at a paper singed by our forfathers who founed this country and gives us things lik free speach and the wright to bear arms.You will see it explains the purpose of the goverment.That is the goverment’s sole porpuse is to protect us from forieng invaders.Not to regulate what I smoke or drink or if I have a seat belt on or not.The goverment should protect me and stay the hell out of the rest of my busseiness.As for non smokers hay we tried haveing smoking and non smuking are’s but nooo they want the whole pie themselves so to them I say kiss my a##.It is time to stop big goverment and take back this country and give it back to the people not the fat cats in D.C.

  • coal miner

    Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to go without eating, to actually … “I don’t believe that nicotine or our products are addictive.” U.S. Tobacco Company CEO …


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