Tobacco's Radioactivity - Nicotine Hooks You - Radioactivity Kills You (updated on 30Dec14)

Cancer Risk in Relation to Radioactivity in Tobacco

My reason for "editing" this short article today is to keep it alive here on HubPages - to make it available for those who need its information to help keep them alive, free of debilitating lung disease and many sorts of cancer initiation throughout the body, and to help them assist others in that worthy endeavor.

Use this information as a stepping stone on which to avoid drowning in all of the nicotine nonsense and to learn what it really is in tobacco smoke that makes people become forever debilitated and ill - and after years of pain and struggle to simply breathe, eventually causes death. It only takes a few minutes to read this article. Perhaps it can help you or someone you know avoid years of painful dying.

I wish everyone well on this, the next to the last day before the new year, 2015.

Gus - December 30, 2014

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Mostly nowadays I like to write "Dumb Poems," but today I had visitors who really like to smoke cigarettes. I used to do that myself - rather like some sort of chimney. Back when I smoked cigarettes, they cost me 12 cents or so a pack, so I could smoke lots and lots of them. Although I have not (yet) come down with cancer from all of my smoking, I did come along with what the doc calls "COPD." That particular malady causes the lungs to get really messed up such that breathing gets to be a problem... or rather, not breathing very well gets to be a problem.

Years ago, at the time when most of those who are reading this article today were not yet born, I read a small piece in the local newspaper written by a writer paid by the Associated Press. He or she claimed that a scientist or two had found radioactivity in tobacco smoke. I read that startling bit of unwanted information while puffing away on one of my half-a-cent cigarettes, great big long ones without a filter. I loved 'em. I hated that little article. In fact, it scared the daylights out of me. "Radioactivity in tobacco smoke?" Someone had to be joking.

At that time I was one of the guys working on the NASA "man to the moon" mission - "Project Apollo." It was then 1964. I was in charge of the clinical radioisotope laboratory of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, Texas. Our job was to perform multiple physical examinations of two-week duration on the astronaut candidate volunteers. Our radioisotope laboratory had a really super setup, all sorts of up-to-date equipment and personnel with which to perform our many test procedures. So, when I read that little article about tobacco smoke radioactivity (which I did not believe), I said to myself, "Self, you need to check that stuff out to see if those nice scientists were kidding the reporter or if they are all simply plumb crazy."

My big boss thought that my idea was pretty cool, and he encouraged me to check the tobacco deal out in a most scientific and carefully controlled manner. I set up an experiment using volunteers from my co-worker group, and, in accordance with my test protocols. They huffed and puffed cigarette smoke into smoke trapping gadgetry in order that we could check their tobacco smoke for any possible radioactivity. Oh my word! The smoke was "hot." No question about that. Hot with what? I was unsure. However, the radiation counts of my samples were far above what I might have expected.

In one experimental series, the volunteer smokers drew on lighted cigarettes and blew the tobacco smoke into smoke traps without first inhaling the smoke. Those samples provided measurements which, for the sake of description in this hub article, averaged several hundred counts. Next, the volunteers did the same thing using fresh cigarettes, but this time they inhaled the smoke into their lungs before they blew it into smoke traps. Those once-inhaled smoke samples provided less than twenty counts. I suppose that you already know what that caused me to believe.

Anyway, the experiment went on and on, with measurements being made of the gamma radioactivity of unsmoked tobacco, of cigarette ash contamination, of washes of the remainders of cigarettes after they were smoked far down, and so forth. We even checked on how much radioactivity was trapped by built-in filters of some cigarettes (not much at all).

When the experiment was finished, I wrote up the whole deal in a proper fashion in which to submit it to a peer-reviewed journal dealing in matters radiologic. A civilian employee typed the thing out in excellent form, and the computer folks ginned up their computer for me and generated some nifty radioactivity graphs. I got clearance from my Air Force bosses to send the research paper on in. The journal sent it out to their reviewers who, to a person, broke up laughing (so I was told). They thought the whole thing was quite preposterous. Thus, the journal sent it back to me and advised me to relax, have a cup of coffee and a cigarette in the event that their refusal had ticked me off. That was in 1965.

I was quite young then, at least compared to what I am today, but even so, I vowed that I would see my work in their journal before I shuffled off of the earth. From that moment on I saved a copy of every article or piece of information I came across that dealt with tobacco's radioactivity. Truly, I did not accumulate very much.

Along came the early 1990s. I had fun employment doing mobile clinical radiography with a company local to Houston, Texas. Our work hours were a bit unusual. Most of our X-ray calls were in the afternoons, pretty much leaving my mornings free. I got into the habit of working the journal stacks at the fine library at Rice University. (They were very kind to let me do that!) Going through journal after journal, I began to accumulate tons of information about tobacco's radioactivity and its effects on smokers and on non-smokers who happened to be close by. Have you ever read stuff that really caused your ears to flap and the hair on the back of your neck to stand up? That's the way it went for me at the Rice University library.

So, there it was about 30 years after my radiology peers broke up laughing at the thought of tobacco smoke containing significant radioactivity, when out came another article, this time from my own computer. This time, too, I had a friend who was truly world famous in the field of nuclear medicine. I sweet-talked him into reviewing my new article. He made some suggestions to me to improve its readability, and then he told me, "Gus, there were things in that paper that I never knew about before - thanks."

I sent it to the journal that had turned me down 30 years before. They accepted and published it. An abstract of the paper is on the National Institutes of Health's "PubMed" site at .

What really tickles me is to see that many researchers and the like who, today, are really into the subject of tobacco's radioactivity, use the paper published under my name in 1996 as a reference within their own papers. I kid you not - every language in the world seems to be represented among them, most of which I cannot understand. That's really nice, but, when I consider the whole situation, I have to believe that, had I not watched my volunteers huffing and puffing away as they did, I, too, might have laughed at my own first paper. In fact, I'd bet a penny or two today that many who read this hub article or the link articles given above will shake their heads, roll their eyes, and mutter, "This guy is nuts!"

One of the really startling things I learned from all of the scientific and medical literature I studied, literature written in languages I could understand, was that if a person smokes a pack and a half or so of American cigarettes daily for twenty five years or more, that person will constantly receive the equivalent amount of radiation comparable to the exposure received from one chest X-ray each day from then on, even if they quit smoking. Something to think about, is that not?

It was great good fun to write this hub article. I hope that it helps many readers, even those who think I'm nuts..

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Comments 26 comments

Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio the radio activity in the smoke because of the heat? If they quit do they still get radio activity? Great hub! Thanks! :)

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 7 years ago from USA Author

Tom Cornett... The radioactivity in tobacco is there because some of it is taken up by the plant's roots from the soil and some of it is captured by the sticky hairs on the tobacco leaves. The heat of burning tobacco that is being smoked allows the radioactivity already in tobacco leaves (even after full curing) to enter the smoke and, thence, the body of the smoker. Check the links I provided for the full information. Thanks for asking.

Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

Thanks Gus....will do.

Waren E profile image

Waren E 7 years ago from HAS LEFT THE BUILDING............

why do awesome things have to always be that way,why why why?


Luckily I haven't smoked all year, my new year resolve is still in tact,

thanks for this great hub G!

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 7 years ago from USA Author

To Tom Cornett... I apologize to you for throwing links at you instead of answering your questions directly (above), so here goes with the answers:

1. The radioactive elements that are present in the smoke of a burning tobacco cigarette are of two general types - particulate matter both attached to and along with other types of smoke particles and volatilized (gaseous) materials brought about by the heat of burning tobacco.

2. There are two radioisotopes that enter the lungs of tobacco smokers when they inhale the smoke that are of imporatnce - 210-lead and 210-polonium. The radioactive lead has a "half-life" of, as I recall, 23 or so years, whereas the polonium isotope has a half-life of about 138 or so days. The polonium comes about following decay of the lead by "beta particle emission" (electron loss). There is soon enough an equilibrium established between the two isotopes such that over the duration of 210-lead within the smoker, there will be a constant emergence and later decay of additional 210-polonium. That would have scarce meaning if the body would rid itself of the 210-lead, but it does not do so significantly in either quantity or speed. In other words, that 210-lead hangs around. Now, the amount taken in from each cigarette is very, very tiny, but, after 25 years or more of smoking, it builds up into significant amounts as far as its bequethal of 210-polonium is concerned. The polonium level throughout the lungs of long-term heavy smokers (1 to 1-1/2 pack of 20 cigarettes a day)is 4 times that of non-smokers, but there are concentrations of polonium in places within the lungs that hve concentrations of 100 and on up to 10,000 times the concentration of polonium in the overall lungs. Why is this significant? A. The stuff is "locked down" at various places in the lungs and B. 210 polonium decays to eventually become stable lead by its emission of alpha particles (equivalent to the nucleus of a helium atom that has a mass of 4 atomic mass units), each having relatively large mass (weight) and high energy )about 5.3 million electron volts. Those two properties cause the alpha particles to cause tremendous damage to the DNA of the sensitive tissue cells upon which they sit.

Nuff said? Have a nice, smole-free day ! Gus

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 7 years ago from USA Author

Tom Cornett: I apologize to you for the several spelling errors in my reply comment to you, above. As I was writing that comment, my fellow workers were bugging me with a lot of nonsense such that I lost the opportunity to go back and edit my reply. Sorry about that, good friend!

tsmog profile image

tsmog 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

Great Hub , , ,did not know this, but understand how it can be so , , ,thanks for referencing in my hub these two go hand in hand with many others.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA Author

tsmog - Not all that many people do know about this stuff, but all of the tobacco companies did know back around 1960 or so. I wish I had known about tobacco's radioactivity earlier than I did.

Gus :-)))

Sun-Girl profile image

Sun-Girl 5 years ago from Nigeria

Informative and educative hub which i think all smokers should endevour to read from and also learn from.I love this hub and am voting it up.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 5 years ago from USA Author

Howdy Sun-Girl - This sort of information may save someones lungs and liver and bones and life. The facts began to appear way back in the early 1950s, but no one seemed to be very interested in tobacco's radioactivity until around the mid-1960s. Even today there is too much emphasis on tobacco's nicotine and tar contents and not much on its radioactivity - the real killer part.

Gus :-)))

Radcliff profile image

Radcliff 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

Thank you for sharing this scary and fascinating subject. Do you think that this affects the people with whom a smoker has contact? I'm talking about those he/she lives with, even if the smoker smokes outside. I know this is speculative since it hasn't been tested directly, I'm just curious what you think. Thank you for sharing this!

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Hello Liz (Radcliff) -

Answering your question - No, unless the person smokes inside. then there is a real, if not extremely great, effect. The inside smoke inhalation is known as "second-hand" tobacco smoke inhalation. The linked article speaks to this.

Gus :-)))

xanzacow profile image

xanzacow 3 years ago from North Myrtle Beach, SC

Great hub Gus. I had no idea. There is no lead jacket for your lungs.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA Author

Howdy Cynthia (xanzacow) -

Not many people understand that the really bad killer stuff in tobacco smoke is its radioactivity. Maybe the biggest problem with it is that, once it gets inside of you, it accumulates, with some of it sticking around ion there for years and years. Imagine receiving a chest x-ray every day after having smoked cigarettes for 25 years... that's how much radiation is estimated to be received. Nice, right?

Right now I am editing a PDF copy of the article cited in the link provided in this article. The current copy I have here has lots of typos. I just now got a PDF-editing-capable piece of software to help me do that editing job.

Gus :-)))

SassySue1963 2 years ago

Hey Gus!

So, a belated congrats on having your paper published! That's pretty awesome I believe. No matter how many years ago it was.

I admit it. I'm a smoker. (hangs head in shame).

I do smoke quite significantly less than I used to - but I still smoke. It is quite literally my only vice.

I had been considering an investment into an ECig since many of my friends had used them to quit smoking and was wondering if what you thought about those as an alternative.

Nice Hub!

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 2 years ago from USA Author

SassySue - It is always a joy to put a spark of "awe" out there for folks to grab onto - so, thank you for your kind words. Let it be understood that I started writing stuff when I came to understand that I was not to become a millionaire through painting, statue-carving, world-governing, or the common mining of gold nuggets down by the creek. Maybe not-to-strangely I remember the first piece of writing I sold, unintentionally at that. I was stationed in Germany back in 1956 and sent a piece in to the editor of a church magazine in the hope that he would run the thing in his mag such that my folks back in the states might believe that I was behaving myself while playing soldier in Europe. the guy actually sent me a check for 50 bucks which, back then was a lot of money, particularly so because you could exchange one dollar for 4.3 German marks (each of which spent like a buck on the economy). Oh, I was hooked for certain.

Now, that brings us to your question about my thinking on E-cigs. E-cigs are to cigarettes as ceramic coffee cups are to styrofoam drinking cups. The former is durable and is used multiple times whereas the latter is tossed away after each "smoke." As to the addiction to nicotine, there is no difference. The only difference that remarks to me is that the E-cig is not loaded with cancer-fostering radioactivity that can migrate throughout the body and the plant tars that glue the radioactivity to epithelial tissues in the breathing system. In those regards the E-cigs are probably less damaging. However, those are not the things to which you are addicted. It is to nicotine that has you hooked, and nicotine is one of the more powerful addictive substances among the lot of them.

There is but one way to quit the addiction. Quit putting nicotine into your body. Changing the style of the drinking vessel doesn't do it.

Do not misunderstand me, Sue. Long before wiser heads than mine though up E-cigs, I felt that cigarette manufacturers should put extra nicotine into their ciggies so that folks could get their fixes while taking in lesser amounts of killer radioactivity and tars (by having to smoke less for the same jolts). Along came E-cigs - and that's what they do.

It is not easy to quit smoking nicotine either from tobacco or from E-cigs. There is only one way to do it. Do it.


Gus :)

purplmama profile image

purplmama 2 years ago from The Midwest - Northern Illinois

Gus, fabulous article, as usual. Congrats on the publication! I use PubMed extensively for research and I've come to rely heavily on its content. Great work, and thanks for the valuable info! Good thing I quit the cigs many years ago! I'm sharing this article. ; )

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 2 years ago from USA Author

Hi Peggy (purplmama) -

Thanks for the kind words - and I understand how happy you can be that you quit tobacco smoking some years back. I remember the feeling once I figured out that I had won that difficult battle. PubMed, like Google and some others, is a great resource. What gets onto PubMed is usually reliable information. Right now I am in some sort of "mini-war" with our HubPages "Team" as to two very factually deficient hubs that were placed following one of my hubs as recommended reading. I have been fighting that battle for several weeks already, and I believe that I am about to lose the war. Too bad for me, right? I am going to have to remove my own hub to get away from the offensive nonsense it would appear.

But, no matter, you have a great day, and thanks again for your kind words.

Gus :)

purplmama profile image

purplmama 2 years ago from The Midwest - Northern Illinois

Gus, I'm sorry for that! It stinks that you'd have to remove your own well-researched and experienced content just to keep unreliable content from being linked to yours. :[

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 2 years ago from USA Author

Hello again, Ms. Peggy (purplemama) -

Not to worry about the things that HubPages can and cannot do. Even so, I do feel it is of some importance to pay attention to complaints made about Hub inaccuracies. It does appear really snotty for me, a humble sort at my brashest, to claim expertise in the area of radioactivity in tobacco, but I am. So when I tell HubPages that some nice Hubber's error-filled hubs are paired with one of my tobacco radioactivity summary (short and sweet) hubs and that I want it removed from its presence as a recommended reading - and they claim to be unable to remove it from the list, there is no other good choice than to unpublish my hub.

As I told the "HubPages Team," I would ordinarily send a Hubber a nice little note pointing out some errors for him, but those two hubs are so far out into left field that to point out the errors would almost require re-writing his hubs for him. Then, judging by the content of his current two hubs, he would argue and fuss that he is correct, etc., and I would then have a stroke and die (smiling as I write that). No thank you.

Take a look at my hub to be before I remove it (Tobacco Radioactivity) and then the two in the list following it - beginning with one having a title that indicates that tobacco companies are facing new regs that now require them to remove "X-rays" from tobacco and the next one by that same Hubber. Both are filled with lots of nonsense.

My little piece, by the way, was really not that well researched but was run out from memory gained in working with this stuff between 1964 and 1995. I am sitting here right now hoping that I, too, did not make lots of mistakes in my reporting.

One thing for certain, I did not fake the photograph of the billboard sponsored by the local high school kids. When I saw that thing standing there at roadside I was really surprised - "Hey, these kids must have been following me around in the lab and in the tech libraries." (And it was a pleasant surprise, too...)

So, Ms Peggy, don't feel sorry. There are times when we do what we have to do.

I did make the suggestion that HubPages would be well-served to establish a "Hub Content" review group that would attempt to improve the quality (correctness of facts) in any hub that anyone declares to be factually in error. I doubt that this will ever come about, but one never can tell. (If the "New Yorker Magazine" can today feature a funny cartoon of a neutered dog entering the gates of hound heaven with a most logical anatomical request, then most anything can come about, even HubPages listening to an old Hubber like me.

Gus :)

purplmama profile image

purplmama 2 years ago from The Midwest - Northern Illinois

Hmmm... I didn't realize that "bad stuff" was a technical term. :/ I agree; HP should have a Content Quality Team. It makes complete sense and would only add to HP's credibility and ranking.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 2 years ago from New York

Good research and information...congratulations on your wonderful article and persistence by the way...but not good information for smokers!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Kate Mc Bride profile image

Kate Mc Bride 2 years ago from Donegal Ireland

Great article Gus-12cent a pack is a lot cheaper than the full EU10 they cost in this country now-they are after going up from 9.60 to 10.00

Thanks again for your link to this. Voted up and useful :-)


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 2 years ago from USA Author

Howdy once more, Ms. Peggy (purplmama) -

Yes Ma'am - "bad stuff" is probably the most technically useful term that scientists have yet devised. The HP team does what it can do, but there is a problem when the team is skilled in to the north side and the articles err to the south side. It will likely remain to the authors to police the referrals and the comments, etc.

Thank you for your comment here, by the way...

Gus :-)

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 2 years ago from USA Author

Hi Mary (tillsontitan) -

Were I to write a "wonderful" article it would be the one that awarded nice people like you and like me stipends of thousands for our words.

No matter that... it is a nice thing to learn that you read the smoking article, that it was of interest to you, and that it might be helpful to you and to others. Thanks.

Gus :-)

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 2 years ago from USA Author

Kate Mc Bride - Be happy that the price of tobacco products (actually, taxes on them) have gone up and up and will continue in that direction. One more incentive to quit smoking - as if there were not enough already.

Gus :-)

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