Recent articles1-4 have described the dangers to children and adults of secondhand cigarette smoke. However, it is not widely known that cigarette smoke is substantially radioactive.5-14

Tobacco plants in the United States are grown in soils and with high-phosphate fertilizers which are naturally contaminated with the α-emitting radionuclide polonium-210 (210Po).13,14 In addition, evidence exists that other atmospheric radon-222 (222Rn daughter products are also incorporated into the plant.10,15 The average cigarette contains 0.3 pCi of 210Po, 7 which is melted, vaporized, inhaled, and ultimately deposited along the tracheobronchial epithelial linings of smokers.16-19

In 1 year, a smoker of 1 to 2 packs per day will irradiate portions of his or her bronchial epithelium with about 8 to 9 rem.8,16,18

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