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Tobacco radioactivity & public health policy

Institution: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Investigator(s): Hrayr Karagueuzian, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2005 (Cycle 14) Grant #: 14IT-0001 Award: $154,367
Subject Area: Public Health, Public Policy, and Economics
Award Type: Inno Dev & Exp Awards (IDEAS)

Initial Award Abstract
The objectives of this proposal are to retrieve, review and analyze declassified tobacco industry and open literature data in order to compile all data on the level of alpha particle radiation in the main and side stream tobacco smoke and in the lungs of active, passive (secondhand smokers) and nonsmokers obtained at autopsy analyses.

Specifically, we will pursue the following two aims: 1) to systematically retrieve, review, analyze, tabulate and prepare a comprehensive data base from the declassified tobacco industry reports on radioactivity in tobacco smoke (main & side stream), the lungs of active and passive smokers, and nonsmokers and compare them with data published in the open literature; 2) To search and retrieve all relevant tobacco industry documents to determine the policy of the tobacco industry with respect to tobacco radioactivity and the actions taken to address the potential health consequences of exposure to alpha irradiation both in active and passive smokers. The data base resulting from this study is estimated to be used by investigators and policy makers and legislators to promote public awareness with respect to tobacco smoke radioactivity. Alpha particle emitting radioisotopes accumulate in tobacco leaves through soil rich with calcium phosphate fertilizers contaminated with radioactive isotopes and through the atmosphere from which sub-micron radioactive particles directly enter the tobacco leave and accumulate in its sticky hair-like projections known as trichomes. Tobacco smoke inhalation delivers to the lung insoluble particles rich in radioactive polonium 210 (210Po) that deposit at select bronchial sites generating localized high-energy alpha particle emission (“hot spots”). Due to the long residency time of these insoluble particles in the lungs of smokers led many investigators including the U.S. Surgeon General to claim that tobacco radioactivity may be linked to increased risk of lung cancer death. All major online sources of tobacco industry documents including will be searched and relevant reports retrieved, analyzed and tabulated. A two or three-tier approach will be used with new search terms (names, project codes, dates, other subject and chemical terms) culled from the documents retrieved. Declassified industry documents will be compared to open literature reports and the combined data base made public by publishing the findings in peer-reviewed journals.

The results of our findings will be useful to inform and educate the public that significant radioactivity exists in cigarette smoke and that when inhaled by active and passive smokers significant levels of alpha particles deposit in the lungs that may increase the risk of lung cancer that claims the lives of some 160,000 Americans every year. In addition of providing evidence-based educational material, the comprehensive data base will also be useful to policy makers to make sound policy choices and also help researchers in various disciplines to use this ready-made data without embarking to a costly and duplicative research. It is anticipated that educational programs coupled with effective policy choices, such as warning label on cigarette packages, may dissuade beginners to start smoking and perhaps even induce chronic smokers to reconsider their habit.