Research suggests that cigarette smoking does not cause cancer. Pity about all the ionizing radiation.
Cigarette induced cancers are from radiation exposure; ionizing radiation emitted from cigarettes accounts for 90% of all smoking related cancers (1) – but cancer risk is not, by necessity, increased from smoking “cigarettes” themselves.
I was wrong. I did not believe it. But it appears it is not a metaphor: 1 cigarette is about the equivalent in ionizing radiation dose to a chest X-Ray that you do not need (Table 1).
And what is more, everyone knows. In fact I was told when I joined IMED Uniting radiology, as I say – I thought it was a metaphor.
The radiation logo is not on the cigarette packets, so the story goes, because “big tobacco” did not want to be subject to Hans Blix. (*ie if it was classified as not ‘chemical carcinogen’ but ‘radiation hazard’ – they would potentially be subject to the same legislation that governed medical & military protocols for secure housing, regulatory inspections, & safe transport – just as any other industry that fell under the act).
I’m not so sure about that. However, at the very least, such a disclosure by companies would necessitate they are willing to admit they ‘know’ about the radiation effects of their products. And it would also require that they actually did ‘know’ about said ‘effects’ in the first place. Which, of course, they did; and it does not take Russel Crowe to convince me that there is a very good chance that this truth probably played a role in their eventual marketing classification. There are leaked documents that confirm big tobacco knew in the 70’s (1) and since the New England Journal was writing about it by the 80’s (5); I am further inclined to believe it.
And this was not a period where the radiation logo was quite yet the big seller for tattoos and bumper stickers that it is was destined to become. When people saw the logo, it was less about thoughts of “bands” and “Bio-Shock X“, and more about “duck and cover“; “is today the end“; and “what is this school desk made out of anyway – and should I be more afraid of that, being it can withstand a nuclear blast?“.
Radiation variants, exposure, decay and absorption can all get pretty complicated. But I can give you enough to get by such that the concepts, by the end of this piece, should be clear enough for you to interpret my arguments.
Essentially, we are interested in expected biological effects. This can be estimated by dose equivalent schedules (13). All you really need to know to figure this stuff out is 1 rem = ~3 yrs background radiation exposure; 100 rem = 1 Sv . Depending on absorption and type, they can be measured in varied units, for example, Greys (Gy) or rads. Since we are dealing with biological absorption risk, but of various radiation types across countries, it is best for our purposes to measure in the international dose equivalency Sv system. Effectively, 1 Gy = 1 Sv.
1 Sv is considered the beginning dose for classic radiation sickness. 6 Sv is an estimated single dose fatal exposure – however, radiation exposures of far less, 0.2 Sv, is all that is required for increases in cancer risk. A smoker who grabs a 20 pack has already doubled this exposure: so there is good cause not to smoke them all at once. A smoker who grabs a 40 pack is holding in their hands an approximate fatal dose of radiation: nearly 1 Sv. Even more cause not to smoke them all at once: and possibly why so many smokers go bald.
However, despite the fact many pack a day smokers will not often go the full 40 at once – ionizing radiation does have cumulative effects on the body. As particulates builds up and dissipate, only to have radiation doses be consistently repeated; permanent changes are also being made. Despite the success of film series such as ‘X-Men’, ‘The Wolverine’ & ‘The Avengers’: no radiation dose that we currently know of has taken someone from a baseline of ‘healthy‘ to any form of ‘better than healthy‘. Of course, research continues on orphans, criminals and the homeless thanks to joint grants from DARPA and Big Tobacco.
And let it be restated; absorption and cumulative effects are key factors in interpreting likely biological effects. This was highlighted again recently in a J Emergency Medicine review for clinical radiation exposure protocols (3Jones et al, 2012), and is a general principal set that further puts inhaling radioactive constituents into a very specific category.
Table 1 – IMED “this is not a metaphor” Medical Imaging training dose schedule
So, are cigarettes at least still full of cancer causing carcino-chemo agents?
Nope, it appears not. Not in any practical sense anyway. Only 1% of cancers could be established in the lab studies that tested every smoking chemical (1,3). Smoking related neoplasm are radiation induced cancers in 90% of cases (1UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Lab).
That also means if you have radiation treatment for a disease or any scans for anything: in reality you are off baseline for radiation safety calculations if you are a smoker (2).
So what is going on here? Is it just smoke is radioactive? Is it in incense ? & cannabis? & fire wood too? No, believe me, I checked (for incense -_-). Unless I am a Chinese man who also smokes cigarettes (I’m not; Nature, 6) the more modern meta reviews for incense I have written on before, and they shake out alright. But it also appears to be true enough, regarding cannabis; cannabis does not cause cancer because it is not radioactive, & tar does not overly matter in this respect (1).
Tobacco is just a wonder plant for extracting radioisotopic metals from soil with the perfect poison catching leaves (8). Is that still a little odd? Yep! – big tobacco again, ensuring the quickest growing dirtiest crop possible. Direct muSv radiation damage come from multi vector isotope tag along compounds determined by field locations, fertilizers used, and post product processing techniques.
Dose? Studies vary, but none of it is particularly great. 150muSv- 400muSv directly into the lungs (8).
So here is where you say; MuSv? So? &? What? Huh?
To put that in perspective, one author compared it to the Chernobyl disasters cesium137 inhaled. Chernobyl air was found to be 3 orders of magnitude safer in this case, compared to some of the alternate compounds sold in cigarettes to this day, especially Polonium-210 (7).
Interestingly, another paper claimed that the literal cesium137 from Chernobyl, was still making its way on to tobacco crops today. (*Section 2 has a look at the Half-life of cigarettes).
That health outcomes are more substantially impacted, as radioactive decay alters when constituents are heated or as particulates travel with smoke, is another potentially relevant theory worth a look (8). Not unreasonable, as all things alter with temperature or pressure and if ionizing radioactive particulates are loading in your body – well surely that is like a mini SIRT’s (*interestingly: phone in one pocket, pack of cigarettes in the other, tablet on lap – increase in prostate cancer. Who could know, right? What is to come).
As with all poisons, the ethics boards get all “weird” when experiments have the tiniest element of risk for bad press; like when you ask to feed non-military persons known poisons to show that they are, indeed, poisonous. (Well, in most circumstances).
Thus, we are predominantly relegated to the realm of the observational in humans. But as is often the case, there are a lot of volunteers happy to by-pass ethics for even the chance of a “lil bita somthn somthn“. People need to relax. People want to be “hip”. They want to be “down”. I get that. And theres ain’ts nothin wrong with that. Word. That from the heart, player.
Groovy people want to be like the pretend people on the ‘ol brain scrambler; rich people who play characters and are nothing like their viewers, nor are they the characters they portray. This misguided belief is also why fans always ask performers “how much of you is in your character?” – they hope that this will be the time that their favorite actor screams:
“100%! And I”VE been looking for YOU because I love you and we have to save the world! Lets go!” *Both embrace as they crash through the Comic-con ceiling and fly into space love and into battle*. Scene.
And fair enough too. Well, hey spaceman – give it all a whirl. If it don’t kill you, it makes you stronger, that’s what Nietzsche said.
Although, of course, it doesn’t always go according to plan; as Nietzsche himself discovered when he caught an STD from the first woman he ever slept with, went quite mad and died. But … details. They’re for scientists.
Indeed, sometimes if it doesn’t kill you, it cripples you, accumulates in the body, often in places you didn’t know you had – & THEN … we can not prove it killed you, or made you stronger, per se: not directly anyway. So there will be no lawyers here. What are you crazy? I’m not speaking out against big tobacco. (See The Insider).
But though the carcinogenic chemicals seemed a relative bust – smoking does still carry a hefty preventable risk burden.
Sometimes that risk is a persistent dry cough. Increased chance of asthma attack.
And sometimes the risk is what I like to call “glow dust”. You can choose from Uranium-238; Radium-226; Cesium-137; Polonium-210; Thoriam-232, Strontium-90; Lead-210; Plutonium-232 – and many many more (8). Most all of these are confirmed present in the current tobacco crop that fills the packet you are smoking right now. The others are on their way from Fukushima; all the reputable review studies simply aren’t quite finished yet.
Risk further depends on which company-region combo you get, as this will influence the “glow dust” ratio combo (was it not Sagan who said “We are all… *cough*… we are… *cough cough*… glow dust… *cough*… water…wat *cough*”? ). Beautiful.
Cigarette Smoking Does Not Cause Cancer:
Dr JRR, hc and JR, Lsc. (2013). Cigarette Smoking Does Not Cause Cancer: Series. J Chron Lett Sci, December. (16-18), Ed 9.