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It's a well established but little known fact that commercially grown tobacco is contaminated with radiation. The major source of this radiation is phosphate fertilizer.1 The big tobacco companies all use chemical phosphate fertilizer, which is high in radioactive metals, year after year on the same soil. These metals build up in the soil, attach themselves to the resinous tobacco leaf and ride tobacco trichomes in tobacco smoke, gathering in small "hot spots" in the small-air passageways of the lungs.2 Tobacco is especially effective at absorbing radioactive elements from phosphate fertilizers, and also from naturally occurring radiation in the soil, air, and water.3
To grow what the tobacco industry calls "more flavorful" tobacco, US farmers use high-phosphate fertilizers.....
Conservative estimates put the level of radiation absorbed by a pack-and-a-half a day smoker at the equivalent of 300 chest X-rays every year.5 The Office of Radiation, Chemical & Biological Safety at Michigan State University reports that the radiation level for the same smoker was as high as 800 chest X-rays per year.6 Another report argues that a typical nicotine user might be getting the equivalent of almost 22,000 chest X-rays per year.7
US Surgeon General C Everett Koop stated on national television in 1990 that tobacco radiation is probably responsible for 90% of tobacco-related cancer.8 Dr RT Ravenholt, former director of World Health Surveys at the Centers for Disease Control, has stated that "Americans are exposed to far more radiation from tobacco smoke than from any other source."9
Researchers have induced cancer in animal test subjects that inhaled polonium 210, but were unable to cause cancer through the inhalation of any of the non-radioactive chemical carcinogens found in tobacco.10 The most potent non-radioactive chemical, benzopyrene, exists in cigarettes in amounts sufficient to account for only 1% of the cancer found in smokers.9
Is there any truth to the suggestion that, "Many scientists believe that cancer deaths among smokers are due to the radioactive content of tobacco leaves and not to nicotine and tar" (source). If so, where does one get non-radioactive tobacco?...
Well, it's New Scientist, so it's good to take anything they say with a grain of salt. But they are quoting an paper in a peer-reviewed journal. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the full text so I can't look up the citations that Papastefanou relies on.
As far as avoiding radioactive tobacco, you can't. Radioactivity is everywhere. You might be able to find less radioactive tobacco. The article indicates that some of the leaves he looked at had more than 2.5 times the radioactivity of others. I doubt there is widespread information on the radioactivity of commercial cigarettes, but I could be wrong. You would probably have to measure it yourself.
The presence of polonium in tobacco smoke has been known since the early 1960s. Some of the world's biggest tobacco firms researched ways to remove the substance—to no avail—over a 40-year period but never published the results.
Radioactive polonium-210 contained in phosphate fertilizers is absorbed by the roots of plants (such as tobacco) and stored in its tissues. Tobacco plants fertilized by rock phosphates contain polonium-210, which emits alpha radiation estimated to cause about 11,700 lung cancer deaths annually worldwide.
The radioactive elements in phosphate fertilizers also make their way into our food and drink. Many food products, especially nuts, fruits, and leafy plants like tobacco absorb radioactive elements from the soil, and concentrate them within themselves.17
Radon and radon decendants are naturally present in the earth and concentrated in fertilizer(1). This discussion focuses on Polonium 210 because it emits a particularly energetic(2) ionizing alpha radiation which is more hazardous when received internally(3). Although external exposure to alpha radiation is usually not dangerous, continuous external exposure to radiation from chemical fertilizer may cause skin cancer(4).
Research has shown that tobacco can absorb Po210. Similarly, many plants we commonly use for food can absorb polonium and other radon progeny(5). The widespread use of radioactive phosphate fertilizer may be increasing levels of radioactive polonium in animal feeds as well(6). In Europe, the majority of polonium in the average diet is sourced in grains, vegetables, and meat(7). In the United States, where chemical fertilizer use is more prevalent, the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research reports that polonium in American dairy and meat products expose human organs to radiation levels equivalent to tobacco use(8). Small amounts of polonium can even be found in fluoridated drinking water(9) which, in addition to normally present radionuclides, may be influenced by farm irrigation and run off(10).
Polonium from tobacco smoke is carried by the blood and accumulates in the liver, kidneys, bone marrow, and blood vessel walls(11). If fertilizer sourced polonium in food is distributed around the body in the same way, then much of the food we eat causes internal ionizing alpha radiation. In order to estimate the full measure of radiation in the diet, we must consider the radioactivity of all radon daughters(12) both naturally present and those added by fertilizer. There is a large variance in the estimates of polonium content in american polonium intake(13).
Food borne radon daughters may or may not be absorbed/distributed as efficiently as polonium in tobacco smoke. However, as seen in the above European diet example, food can deliver internal radiation exposure beyond the limits considered safe for external occupational exposure(14). It is not clear how much radioactive content fertilizer contributes to food and how much is naturally present. .....
"Fertilizers made from phosphate rocks contain higher
amounts of uranium than natural soils..."