Radioactive cigarettes

In today’s column there’s that bit about C. Everett Koop and the radioactive cigarettes which it seems nobody can find an attribute. The only place I’ve ever seen this appear was in Jack Herer’s book about hemp, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” which makes it’s fair share of outrageous and unsupported claims regarding a laundry list of things. I highly doubt that the widely attributed quote ever came from our beaded buddy Koop.

Though the column doesn’t mention it, smoking has harmful side-effects that aren’t related to the stuff found in tobacco or tobacco smoke. The various compounds, even if they aren’t carcinogenic, cause vasoconstriction (tightening of the blood vessels) leading to circulatory problems and heart disease. They also irritate pulmonary tissues leading to emphysema and other circulatory problems. Even if you took “tobacco” by patch, the compounds would be affecting your circulation, and having even more pronounced of an effect as you age.

So even if you remove every trace of foreign “stuff” from tobacco, prolonged heavy use is still bad for you.

That’s the whole problem: “prolonged heavy use”, “bad”. An occasional use of something that doesn’t get into your lungs is not nearly as bad (for example, cigars, pipes, or snuff used mebbe once or twice a month), and unlike strychnine or lead it’s not a guaranteed poison.

As a result, people who use it ceremonially or just dabble in it or don’t inhale are less prone to ill effects, especially cancer (but don’t get me wrong, they can get sick too). And “bad” depends on genes as well, it seems: George Burns smoked cigars every day for 100 years. Go figure.

Want to live a long time? Above all, have parents who did, and then cut out the bad stuff, like smoking.

Which, of course, is why George Burns died at such a young age… :rolleyes:

Oh, you mean what to do to increase my CHANCES of living a long life… :wink:

For anyone who’s interested: we did a thread on this topic a while back, which covered a lot of the things that Cecil mentioned in his column, and some he didn’t.

The body’s natural way to deal with particulate contaminants in the lungs is the mucous barrier. Now the major hazard from [sup]210[/sup]Po is that it’s an alpha particile emitter when it decays. Alpha particles are essentially nuclei of helium atoms moving at a signifigant fraction of the speed of light. They are heavy, large, and highly charged. So think of a rocket propelled truck moving through Manhattan - it’s not going to get very far, because it’s going to hit too much stuff to let it keep moving, but it’s going to do a whole lot of damage in that short distance it travelled.

To get back to an actual alpha particle, instead of my rocket propelled truck metaphor, the average distance they’ll travel in a body is on the order of a fraction of a millimeter. Which just happens to be about the same thickness in a healthy adult for their mucous barrier in the lungs. One cannot say that the mucous barrier will shield the body from all damage from alpha emitters in the lungs, or even at the hot points at the brachial tubes, but it’s a sure bet that some of it is being attenuated there. Because of factors like that, when I did a data search at the time of that other thread I could find no consistent dose estimates for lung dose from [sup]210[/sup]Po and Radon decay daughters. There are so many variables, the literature I saw indicated that there really was no way to make a definative estimate.

Good column. Two grammatical nitpicks: in the second paragraph, “Thankfully” should be “Fortunately,” and in the last paragraph, “surgeon generals” should be “surgeons general.”

the Columbia Guide to Standard American English 1993

While I don’t have the exact figures handy, I believe that studies have shown that organic cigarette use actually does have some lower cancer incidence. Obviously not smoking has the lowest rates. One study I read compared incident rates in China vs. the United States…

Besides multiple chemical exposures as one possible reason for these type of results you must take into account the various and numerous additives that are incorporated into or sprayed onto western brand cigarettes.

So it’s not just the potential radioactivity that should be investigated when answering the question about organic cigarettes…

Ok here are a few study results…

( )

This study indicates that, of Chinese adults aged 35–74 years, 60.2% (147358000) of men and 6.9% (15895000) of women were current cigarette smokers. In addition, 49.2% (139421000) of nonsmokers aged 35–74 years reported exposure to ETS at home or at work. Overall, more than 300 million Chinese adults aged 35–74 years were exposed to active or passive cigarette smoking. This number is very significant because cigarette smoking has become the leading cause of preventable death in China and the world.
( )

Smoking rates have declined since that report, with a proportional decrease in lung cancer rates lagging some 20 years behind. While lung cancer rates were less than 5 per 100,000 at the start of the 20th century in the United States, by 1998, the age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 population for men had reached 77.2 in Belgium and 75.5 in Scotland, with the 10 highest rates all in European countries. The 10 lowest rates for men were found primarily in South America and Asia.

The most disturbing trend is the burgeoning epidemic in countries of the developing world. In 1985, it was estimated that there were 921,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide—an increase of 17% from just 1980. The International Agency for Research on Cancer in France found that the rate of lung cancer in Africa in 1994 was similar to that of the United States in the 1930s, at about 5 per 100,000. By 1999, the rate of lung cancer in men in the developing countries was 14.1 per 100,000 and on the rise as compared with the rate of 71.4 per 100,000 in the developed countries and on the decline. For women, the lung cancer rate is 5.1 per 100,000 in developing countries versus 21.2 per 100,000 in developed countries. The figures in developing countries will underestimate the true rates of lung cancer as many go undiagnosed or unreported in areas where health care is not readily available. One exception to this lack of data is China, where some large studies have been performed to investigate lung cancer. Liu and coworkers estimated that nearly 800,000 Chinese men would die of lung cancer in 1998. Others have predicted that China, where one-third of the world’s smokers reside, will have millions of lung cancer deaths annually by the middle of the 21st century. The average number of cigarettes smoked by every adult male in China is 11/day, with 67% of the male population smoking, equivalent to the highest rates ever seen in the United States. The consumption of cigarettes in China may surpass that of all of the developed countries combined.
( Smoking and Lung Cancer in China: Combined Analysis of Eight Case-Control Studies | International Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic )

Smoking is well established as a principal risk factor for lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer is about ten times higher in smokers in Western countries. In China, a number of epidemiological studies have investigated the association between lung cancer and smoking and in the present paper, a combined analysis of eight such case-control studies is described. The summary odds ratio (OR), calculated by the Mantel-Haenszel method, and attributable risk (AR) of lung cancer associated with smoking were calculated from the combined data which were obtained from a literature review. The eight case-control studies were conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Nanjing, Harbin, Zhengzhou, Taiyuan, and Nanchang, yielding a total of 4081 lung cancer cases and 4338 controls. The summary OR of lung cancer associated with smoking was 2.17 (95% Cl (confidence interval): 1.98–2.39). The OR were 3.09(95% Cl: 2.61–3.66) for males and 2.30 (95% Cl: 1.96–2.69) for females. The AR were 38.2% for both sexes, 56.7% for males and 25.5% for females. Risks of 1.00, 1.03, 2.04, and 3.33 showed a dose-response relationship between lung cancer and number of cigarettes smoked per day. There were also significant dose-response relationships of lung cancer with duration of smoking (OR = 1.00, 1.02, 2.66), and age at start of smoking (OR = 1.00, 3.30, 2.36, 1.18). The OR and AR of lung cancer associated with smoking in China were much lower than those reported in Western countries and the possible reasons for this are discussed.

The question is why are the rates lower with higher rates/numbers of smokers in China verses western developed countries? Is it diet, other voluntary or involuntary environmental exposures to chemicals and carcinogens, and/or the additives in western cigarettes? Some other reason?

A little nit-pick. How heavy is helium? Are you implying that the mass has significantly increased in relativistic terms? Are we talking uranium heavy (rest mass)?

Excuse me. It’s more accurate to say “relatively large” rather than simply large. Alpha particles, compared to other forms of radiation (gamma rays, beta particles, and neutrons), are both heavier and have a comparatively large cross-section for interaction with matter.
Here’s Loki’s quick and dirty explaination of how radiation affects matter, and especially how it damages living organisms. Basically, the problem with radiation is that it creates free radicals within the affected cell’s cytoplasm - compounds that are desperate to react with anything to regain the electrical charge stability they had before they were affected by the radiation. A very common free radical would be the OH[sup]-[/sup] radical, when a water molecule has one of the protons/Hydrogen atoms within it knocked off. Complex organic molecules, like DNA and RNA, a susceptible to simple chiral changes because of a change in the pH of the solution they’re in, let alone more drastic interactions with free radicals about them. So, free radicals are bad. And the more of them there are in a given cell the more likely it is that they’re going to affect the DNA or RNA of that cell, disrupting it’s function.

To simplify things, particulate radiation: beta particles, neutrons and alpha particles; interact with matter to transfer energy via charge interactions, and through collisions. (Well, neutrons don’t have charge interactions of course, but they do bounce around a lot.) Beta particles do tend to bounce into things, but because of their low relative mass, they are usually going to only be able to knock electrons about. It is more likely they’ll affect electron orbitals in molecules through charged particle interactions, though.

Alpha particles, when compared to an beta particle, mass on the order of 10000 times that of the electron, and have twice the absolute charge of the electron, too. So not only are they going to be ripping electrons off through charge interactions, but they’re also going to be hitting the nuclei of atoms in molecules, often with the effect of actually physically breaking the atom away from the molecule.

Neutrons can knock smaller atoms out of molecular bonds, as well, but because they’re neutral charge, and their relatively smaller cross section for interaction, compared to an alpha particle, the effect is less likely to be concentrated all within a single cell. Alpha particles do, on a molecular level, massive damage in a very, very short distance. For most intents, the assumption I’d always used was that all the free radicals generated by an alpha particle were likely to be concentrated within a single cell. So, even if an alpha particle is transferring the same amount of energy to the affected tissue as say a beta particle, the damage the alpha particle is more critical, because it’s all concentrated within a much smaller area.

Thanks OtakuLoki, I figured as much. But more importantly, I learned a new word today chiral. Which rhymes with spiral. Coincidence? :dubious: