Tobacco Companies Knew of Radiation in Cigarettes, Covered It Up

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Officially, tobacco companies said acid washing would cost too much and might have a negative impact on tobacco farmers and on the environment. But Karagueuzian said the documents his team reviewed revealed another reason why the industry avoided acid washing for tobacco leaves: the process would alter the nicotine in the plants and make it less able to deliver the "instant nicotine rush" smokers craved.

Sutton said Philip Morris USA does not use acid washing on their products today.

Polonium's radioactive particles don't simply vanish when cigarette smoke blows away. Spangler said smokers may not realize how long this radiation can linger in their homes.

"Some of these radiation particles hang around for decades and decades," Spangler said. "You're emitting radiation when you smoke, and your family, your dog, your cat are all inhaling that radiation. How many smokers want to expose their child to radiation?"

Karagueuzian said he hopes the study will prompt the federal government to take further action to regulate tobacco companies and their products. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required tobacco companies to give detailed information about all new tobacco products and changes to existing ones. In June, the agency introduced new graphic warning labels that will go on all packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

"Our study should not be looked at exclusively as an indictment or another charge against tobacco industry," Karagueuzian said. "We hope that our work will provide a solid initial step to remind health officials and the FDA that removal of {polonium]alpha particles should be at the top of the agenda."

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