Radioactive Lead and Polonium-210 in tobacco smoke
This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.
The following describes a 1974 Liggett & Myers internal memo titled Comments on Recent News Releases Concerning Lead - 210 and Polonium - 210 in Cigarette Smoke
In 1974, a scientist name Edward Martell published a study in the scientific journal Nature that showed cigarette smoke contains radioactive polonium-210 and lead-210. Martell postulated that the alpha radiation emitted by these substances concentrates in the lungs of smokers and may be a contributor to lung cancer. The article caused a stir both inside and outside the tobacco industry. This 1974 Liggett memo acknowledges what Martell found--that radioactive polonium-210 and lead-210 are indeed present in cigarette smoke--and shows Liggett scientists planned to "counterbalance" Martell's information with "opposing opinions of equally reputable scientists..."
In the memo, Vello Norman, then Liggett's Supervisor of Physical Chemistry, states,
- [Page 1]: "Tobacco leaf, as do all plant tissues, contains small amounts of many inorganic constituents, among them some lead and polonium."
- [Page 2]: "Some of the recent publications have made some very strong statements about the significance of these levels of radiation such as: E.A. Martell, Nature, 249, 217 (1974): 'Thus, is seems that alpha radiation from [Polonium-210] in insoluble smoke particles may be the primary agent of bronchial cancer in smoking."
Norman then writes,
- "We will have to counterbalance this by opposing opinions of equally reputable scientists such as: B. Rajewski and W. Stahlhofen: (the calculated dose rate) 'would seem to show that carcinogenesis caused by inhalation of [Polonium-210] with the tobacco smoke is rather unlikely."
Norman discounts Martell's conclusions by saying Martell is after money or "laurels," and essentially admits that the company doesn't know just how damaging the radioactive polonium and lead in smoke are, that they still need to do research to find this out:
Researchers, particularly when in pursuit of research grant monies or some other laurels, have been known to occasionally overstate what is warranted by facts in order to enhance the merits of their own thing. As it stands, we shall have to delay objective judgment as to just how significant Po-210 [polonium-210] in smoke is until considerable additional research is completed.
Title Comments on Recent News Releases Concerning Lead-210 and Polonium-210 in cigarette smoke
Org. Author Liggett & Myers
Per. Author Vello Norman
Type Memorandum, Scientific report
Related tobacco industry documents
A confidential Philip Morris (PM) memo from 1980 written by Roger Comes (a Associate Senior Scientist in PM's Research and Development department in Richmond, Virginia) responds to news reports about a research article that was published at the time by Edward Martell that revealed that cigarette smoke contained low levels of the radioactive alpha particle-emitting constituent Polonium-210. The memo confirms that PM was aware at that time that smoke from their cigarettes contained radioactive lead and polonium, and that it was derived from the uranium contained in the calcium phosphate fertilizers that farmers regularly used on tobacco-growing soils. Comes states that
"210-Pb [radioactive lead] and 210-Po [radioactive polonium] are present in tobacco and smoke...."
He also suggested that switching to another fertilizer could probably help the situation:
"...using ammonium phosphate instead of calcium phosphate as fertilizer is probably a valid but expensive point..."
Title: "Newscript" Radioactive Cigarettes 800222
Organizational Author: Philip Morris
Per. Author: R.A. Comes
Date: 19800402 (April 2, 1980)
Type: Memorandum, bibliography, scientific report
Bates No. 2012611337/1338
Collection: Philip Morris
Related Sourcewatch resources
- Handwritten note from Philip_Morris scientist Jim Charles (1982 note from PM scientist acknowledging presence of Polonium-210 in smoke)
- Cigarette Filters and Polonium-210 (Lorillard document discussing Polonium-210)
- Brown & Williamson document titled "Environment" (Estimated 1976 document which muses about whether Po-210 in soil will be eliminated in the future through hydroponic agriculture)
- Andy Rowell Tobacco firms kept quiet on polonium role in cigarettes U.K. Independent, Health News section, August 24, 2008
- Monique E. Muggli, MPH, Jon O. Ebbert, MD, Channing Robertson, PhD and Richard D. Hurt, MD Waking a Sleeping Giant: The Tobacco Industry’s Response to the Polonium-210 Issue, American Journal of Public Health, September 2008, Vol 98, No. 9, Pp. 1643-1650
- Robert N. Proctor, Ph.D. Puffing on Polonium, New York Times opinion section, December 1, 2006.
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