Big Tobacco: The more things change…

by Megan on Sep 30, 2011 in Tobacco Control | 1 Comment




Did you know cigarettes contain polonium-210? Better question…do you know what exactly polonium-210 is and what its effects are?

According to David Sutton, a Philip Morris USA Spokesman, we’ve known about polonium in cigarettes for decades. Though by “we” he means the public health community — not the general public. But never fear, David Sutton doesn’t really see the polonium as a problem because, as he points out, it is a “naturally occurring” substance in nature. Naturally occurring…just like arsenic? Just like poisonous mushrooms? Or snake venom?

Polonium is not a fruit or vegetable — it’s a radioactive substance. And the level of polonium found in cigarettes far exceeds the levels found in nature. The increase comes primarily from the fertilizer used in tobacco farming. Since when are we so lax about radiation?

At any rate, polonium in cigarettes made the news this week due to a new study out of the University of California, Los Angeles, which reviewed 27 previously un-analyzed tobacco industry documents. The documents revealed that tobacco companies new about polonium in cigarettes since at least 1959. The documents also showed that the industry had researched its cancer-causing effects on smokers — and knew exactly the level of radiation a smoker would be exposed to over a period of 20 years. 

To add icing to the cake, the documents also showed that the tobacco companies were fully aware of procedure called “acid washing” that vastly decreases the amount of radiation in tobacco. But to this day, the industry doesn’t use it because it would negatively impact nicotine delivery. No nicotine, no dollars.

The revelation that the tobacco industry knew about polonium and its effects and failed to share that information with the public  should not come as a surprise — though what is surprising is that, according to ABC, the study’s lead author found the tobacco industry’s level of deception surprising. 

However, today’s headlines actually drill home a far more important point — our society has a very short memory. Nearly the exact same story hit the stands in 2008 after the publication of a study by Mayo Clinic and Stanford University.

For more information, check out yesterday’s article in ABC News

1 Comment

  • Even though a similar study was published in 2008, It’s always good idea to keep informing the public about the dastardly deeds committed by Big Tobacco. This new study also makes me wonder just how much Polonium-210 a non-smoker absorbs over 20-years, through second-hand smoke? Maybe this newer news will convince some researchers to apply for funding of just such a study.

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About Megan

My passion lies in empowering people to become advocates for a healthier world. I truly believe we can make a difference in our communities and that belief empowers me to seek out new and creative ways to create change.

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