University California Logo A startling revelation seems to have hit the smoking front. Recently, the UCLA analysts have disclosed that companies were apparently aware that cigarette smoke comprised radioactive alpha particles for almost more than 4 decades and its cancerous attributes but chose to keep mum.

An extensive analysis of the documents from the tobacco industry since 1998 showed that the industry knew the presence of radioactive materials in cigarettes 5 years earlier than initially assumed. Also, investigations to gauge its lung cancer risk had begun right from the 1960s.

“They knew that the cigarette smoke was radioactive way back then and that it could potentially result in cancer, and they deliberately kept that information under wraps. Specifically, we show here that the industry used misleading statements to obfuscate the hazard of ionizing alpha particles to the lungs of smokers and, more importantly, banned any and all publication on tobacco smoke radioactivity,” cited the study’s first author, Hrayr S. Karagueuzian, an adjunct professor of cardiology who conducts research at UCLA’s Cardiovascular Research Laboratory, part of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The radioactive matter explored in this analysis known as Polonium-210 was first identified in 1964 and is touted to be a constituent in all usual brands of cigarettes. The latter presumably exudes carcinogenic alpha radiation. The substance is subsequently inhaled by smokers.

Parameters like dose, distribution and retention time were taken into account for a 20 to 25 year period that is equal to nearly 40 to 50 rads. As per the Environmental Protection Agency, these proportions of rads seem to equal about 120 to 138 deaths every 1000 smokers spanning through 25 years.

Inspite of being familiar with the cancerous influences of polonium 210 from tobacco, the industry did not supposedly opt for techniques such as acid wash known to eliminate the radioactive material. Karagueuzian says that the tobacco industry could have taken such a step since the acid media tends to ionize the nicotine that would not satiate the brains of smokers.

Also, since polonium-210 was attained from its parent, lead-210 that has a shelf life of almost 22 years compared to just 135 days of the child, could also be one of the driving reasons. The tobacco firms probably felt that treating the tobacco leaves from the effects of polonium 10 for above an year would not be beneficial as the parent element is still there.

According to Karagueuzian, the insoluble alpha particles integrate with resins in the cigarette smoke and get collected in the bronchial links of the lungs. This leads to the formation of ‘hot spots’ rather than it spreading all over the lungs. Initial studies have shown that the tumor may grow right in the location where these hotspots breed. In some cases the particle-irradiated cell dies but if it survives, it could become a tumor.

The study is published in the journal, Nicotine & Tobacco Research.