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So, you thought it was the tar that caused cancer...

by Sol Lightman

Think again. Cigarette companies will have you believing anything just as long as you continue to buy their products. The fact is, although insoluble tars are a contributing factor to the lung cancer danger present in today's cigarettes, the real danger is radioactivity. According to U.S. Surgeon General C. Everette Koop (on national television, 1990) radioactivity, not tar, accounts for at least 90% of all smoking related lung cancer.

Tobacco crops grown in the United States are fertilized by law with phosphates rich in radium 226. In addition, many soils have a natural radium 226 content. Radium 226 breaks down into two long lived 'daughter' elements -- lead 210 and polonium 210. These radioactive particles become airborne, and attach themselves to the fine hairs on tobacco leaves.

Studies have shown that lead 210 and polonium 210 deposits accumulate in the bodies of people exposed to cigarette smoke. Data collected in the late 1970's shows that smokers have three times as much of these elements in their lower lungs as non smokers. Smokers also show a greater accumulation of lead 210 and polonium 210 in their skeletons,though no studies have been conducted to link these deposits with bone cancer. Polonium 210 is the only component of cigarette smoke which has produced tumors by itself in inhalation experiments with animals.

When a smoker inhales tobacco smoke, the lungs react by forming irritated areas in the bronchi. All smoke produces this effect. However, although these irritated spots are referred to as 'pre-cancerous' lesions, they are a perfectly natural defense system and usually go away with no adverse effects. Insoluble tars in tobacco smoke can slow this healing process by adhering to lesions and causing additional irritation. In addition, tobacco smoke causes the bronchi to constrict for long periods of time, which obstructs the lung's ability to clear itself of these residues.

Polonium 210 and lead 210 in tobacco smoke show a tendency to accumulate at lesions in specific spots, called bifurcations, in the bronchi. When smoking is continued for an extended period of time, deposits of radioactivity turn into radioactive 'hot spots' and remain at bifurcations for years. Polonium 210 emits highly localized alpha radiation which has been shown to cause cancer. Since the polonium 210 has a half life of 21.5 years (Due to the presence of lead 210), it can put an ex-smoker at risk for years after he or she quits. Experiments measuring the level of polonium 210 in victims of lung cancer found that the level of 'hot spot' activity was virtually the same in smokers and ex-smokers even though the ex-smokers had quit five years prior to death.

Over half of the radioactive materials emitted by a burning cigarette are released into the air, where they can be inhaled by non-smokers. In addition to lead 210 and polonium 210 it has been proven that tobacco smoke can cause airborne radioactive particles to collect in the lungs of both smokers and non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke. Original studies conducted on uranium miners which showed an increased risk of lung cancer due to exposure to radon in smokers have been re-run to evaluate the radioactive lung cancer risk from indoor air radon. It turns out that tobacco smoke works as a kind of 'magnet' for airborne radioactive particles, causing them to deposit in your lungs instead of on furniture. (Smoking indoors increases lung cancer risks greatly.)

It has been estimated that the total accumulated alpha radiation exposure of a pack-a-day indoor smoker is 38 to 97 rad by age 60. (Two packs a day yields up to 143 rad, and non-smokers receive no more than 17 rad.) An exposure of 1 rad per year yields a 1% risk of lung cancer (at the lowest estimate.)

Don't smoke. Or if you do, smoke lightly, outdoors, and engage frequently in activities which will clear your lungs. Imported India tobacco has less than half the radiation content ofthat grown in the U.S.

Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco smoke, has long been known to be highly addictive. In fact, doctors and pharmacologists are not in consensus as to which is more addictive -- nicotine, or heroin.

Many people think smoking marijuana is just as harmful as smoking tobacco, but this is not true. Those who hold that marijuana is equivalent to tobacco are misinformed. Due to the efforts of various federal agencies to discourage use of marijuana in the 1970's the government, in a fit of "reefer madness," conducted several biased studies designed to return results that would equate marijuana smoking with tobacco smoking, or worse.

For example the Berkeley carcinogenic tar studies of the late 1970's concluded that "marijuana is one-and-a-half times as carcinogenic as tobacco." This finding was based solely on the tar content of cannabis leaves compared to that of tobacco, and did not take radioactivity into consideration. (Cannabis tars do not contain radioactive materials.) In addition, it was not considered that:

  1. Most marijuana smokers smoke the bud, not the leaf, of the plant. The bud contains only 33% as much tar as tobacco.
  2. Marijuana smokers do not smoke anywhere near as much as tobacco smokers, due to the psychoactive effects of cannabis.
  3. Not one case of lung cancer has ever been successfully linked to marijuana use.
  4. Cannabis, unlike tobacco, does not cause any narrowing of the small air passageways in the lungs.

In fact, marijuana has been shown to be an expectorant and actually dilates the air channels it comes in contact with. This is why many asthma sufferers look to marijuana to provide relief. Doctors have postulated that marijuana may, in this respect, be more effective than all of the prescription drugs on the market.

Studies even show that due to marijuana's ability to clear the lungs of smog, pollutants, and cigarette smoke, it may actually reduce your risk of emphysema, bronchitis, and lung cancer. Smokers of cannabis have been shown to outlive non- smokers in some areas by up to two years. Medium to heavy tobacco smokers will live seven to ten years longer if they also smoke marijuana.


  • (radioactivity)
    • E.A. Martel, "Alpha Radiation Dose at Bronchial Bifurcations From Indoor Exposure to Radon Progeny", Proceeds of the National Academy of Science, Vol. 80, pp. 1285-1289, March 1983.
    • Naoimi H. Harley, Beverly S. Cohen, and T.C. Tso, "Polonium 210: A Questionable Risk Factor in Smoking Related Carcingenisis."
    • "Radiactivity: the New-Found Danger in Cigarettes," Reader's Digest, March 1986.
    • "Would You Still Rather Fight Than Switch?," Whole Life Times, Mid-April/May 1985.
  • (secret ingredients)
    • "What Goes Up In Smoke?," Nation, December 23, 1991.
  • (marijuana)
    • "The Emperor Wears No Clothes," Jack Herer, HEMP/Queen of Clubs Publishing, 1992

Comment added February 2015

Name of sender: Dr. Carmine F. Vasile

Dear Mr. Lightman: The studies you referenced also failed to consider skin, lung, brain and other cancers caused by showering, drinking, eating & inhaling radon-222's short & long-lived decay products shown in Fig. 1 @

They also ignore a major source of contamination -- irrigation by radon-laden groundwater contaminated by tons of radium-laden phosphates -- including waste from DOE’s uranium mining & processing operations in Florida’s Bone Valley, which ceased in 1988. [1}[2]

Former Surgeon General Koop knew or should have known in 1990 that EPA officials were primarily responsible for America’s growing cancer pandemic by fostering DOE’s uranium mining & waste disposal operations in Florida; a major producer of phosphate fertilizer used in tobacco fields ranging from the Carolina's to New York. They did it by deliberately excluding Radon from the 15 pCi/L for Gross-Alpha activity in its Radionuclides Rule of 1976, then falsifying water-to-air transfer ratios by up to 88 times, according to a 2008 report by Vinsen, et al. [3].

To date, the EPA has not set an MCL for Rn-222, or its deadly products; including the two you discuss: Pb-210 & Po-210. The latter has the highest cancer risk factor of all gamma emitters produced by Rn-222 dissolved in drinking water. Po-210's cancer risk factor is twice Pb-210's. [4]

For these reasons, I wrote a Petition to Governor Cuomo to set an MCL for all radon isotopes of 5 pCi/L of water from all public, private & irrigation wells. As shown in Fig. 2 @, this will guarantee Gross Alpha activity will never exceed the EPA's or NY State’s Gross-Alpha MCL of 15 pCi/L.

Accordingly, I woul hope you would sign petition (linked to and ask your readers to forward it to their Governors.

Yours truly,

Dr. Carmine F. Vasile
Ph.D. Electrophysics
[Former Manager of a DOE/DOD-funded Nuclear Power Plant Safety Program]

[1] Warren I. Finch (1996) Uranium provinces of North America-their definition, distribution, and models, US Geological Survey, Bulletin 2141.

[2] Energy Information Administration (12 Feb. 2008): 4th Quarter 2007 uranium production was 1.2 million pounds. 

[3] “Radon transfer from groundwater used in showers to indoor air”, by David S. Vinson, Ted R. Campbell, Avner Vengosh, J. Appl. Geochemistry, June 7, 2008 []

[4] Table 1. Federal Guidance Report No. 13 Cancer Risk Coefficients, Unit Risk Quantities for Drinking Water Concentrations, and the Concentrations Yielding a 1 in a Million lifetime Cancer Risk for Environmentally Significant Radionuclides @


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