The cigarette industry is even more evil than we thought

January 14, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

According to Scientific American, there are more dangers to smoking cigarettes than tar and nicotine. There’s also polonium:

[P]eople worldwide smoke almost six trillion cigarettes a year, and each one delivers a small amount of polonium 210 to the lungs. Puff by puff, the poison builds up to the equivalent radiation dosage of 300 chest x-rays a year for a person who smokes one and a half packs a day.  Although polonium may not be the primary carcinogen in cigarette smoke, it may nonetheless cause thousands of deaths a year in the U.S. alone. And what sets polonium apart is that these deaths could be avoided with simple measures.

The print edition of this article reveals that most of the polonium could be removed from cigarettes by removing it from the fertilizer and by washing the tobacco leaves with a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide. What follows is an old sad story: the tobacco industry has long refused to incorporate these changes to reduce the polonium. The good news is that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed in June 2009, requires the tobacco industry to address this problem, which it has ignored for more than four decades.

Image by indi.ca at Flickr (creative commons)

Now let’s be conservative with the numbers. Let’s assume that only 2,500 people needlessly died each year from polonium poisoning for the past 40 years. That’s 100,000 people who have been sent to early deaths by tobacco executives. That’s the moral equivalent of dropping an atomic bomb on Green Bay, Wisconsin. Yet no tobacco executives have ever been prosecuted, much less thrown in prison for this hideous conduct.

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Category: Health, Law, Noteworthy, Quality of Life

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. The radioactivity comes from radioactive fertilizer. Aren't similar fertilizers used for growing other plants? Is eating vegetables a health hazard?

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Much more information on the dangers of polonium. http://www.acsa2000.net/HealthAlert/lungcancer.ht

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    I have trouble taking the ACSA2000.net website seriously. The riot of colorful fonts, and articles that seem hurriedly cut-and-pasted from various and overlapping far-from-first-sources don't give me much confidence in the reliability of the information presented. (Consider their un-sourced article on Paranormal Agents at the NSA.)

    I am not implying that I doubt that the traces of polonium (that would show up in any bulk calcium chemistry involving crude oil) are a problem.

    Common polonium 210 comes from radon decay, and halves its intensity every 138 days. If the tobacco takes a year to grow and process, 3/4 of what was in the fertilizer is already gone. Keep the cigarettes another year, and you have 1/16 of the original dose.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    Polonium is chemically very similar to bismuth. If you eat it, it will be excreted (just like the pink digestive potion) in less than a percent of a half life.

    But breathe it, and you've got trouble.

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