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Smoking is Radioactive

Did you know that? Tobacco smoke is radioactive.

When you're smoking - along with the other great chemicals that you're putting into yourself - you are also inhaling two radioactive compounds, lead 210 and polonium 210.

Polonium 210 has a half life of about 138 days, making it thousands of times more radioactive than the nuclear fuels used in early atomic bombs.

And you're smoking it.

Not long ago in London, a Russian dissident ex-spy was murdered by people from the KGB, the Russian secret police. You may remember his photo, a man completely bald dying in a hospital bed.

When Litvinenko was found to have been poisoned by radioactive polonium 210, there was one group that must have been particularly horrified - the tobacco industry. The industry has been aware at least since the 1960s that cigarettes contain significant levels of polonium.

But they're not in a hurry to let smokers know this. Do you like smoking radioactivity?

In 1968, the American Tobacco Company began a secret research effort. Using precision analytic techniques, the researchers found that people smoking inhale an average of about .04 picocuries of polonium 210 per cigarette.

A fraction of a trillionth of a curie may not sound like much, but we're talking about a powerful radionuclide emitting alpha particles - the most dangerous kind when it comes to lung cancer - at a much higher rate even than the plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

Somebody who is smoking 20 cigarettes a day - a normal smoker, in other words - is happily ingesting twice the amount of radiation every year than the recommended radiation safety limit for workers at a nuclear power plant. These are people who spend their working lives around radioactivity.

When you're smoking, tiny particles of tar that contain the lead and polonium lodge deep in the lungs. In some places - where the bronchioles, the little tubes, branch into smaller tubes - the concentration is one hundred times higher than in the lungs overall. Which gives you, you poor smoker, much more intense exposure.

And there they stay.

Tar resists being dissolved by the normal fluid in the lungs. Which means that the lead and the polonium have a great deal of time to undergo radioactive decay.

By the way, it doesn't matter if you like smoking "low tar", "ultra light" and so on. The amount of polonium is independent of filtering,. So you can't keep fooling yourself that way.

What does the polonium do? Polonium 210 does its damage by emitting alpha particles, which have enough energy to tear apart the genetic machinery of cells, killing them outright or causing them to mutate into forms that produce tumors. It gives off 5,000 times more alpha particles than the same amount of radium.

Polonium 210 is the only component of cigarette smoke which has produced tumors by itself in inhalation experiments with animals.

In some experiments, scientists have calculated that someone who has been smoking 40 a day for 25 years has had a dose of radioactivity 150 times normal.

But this is only the total figure, the figure for the whole body. In the lungs, right next to the polonium, the radiation can be 10,000 times higher than natural background radiation.

Next time you're smoking, I suggest you remember this fact


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