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Many cigarettes contain radioactive polonium from the use of phosphate/apatite fertilizers. The National Institutes of Health lists tobacco as by far the largest source of radiation for the American public.

A common argument for organic cigarettes is that they don't contain as much radioactive material, and are therefore much safer:

Surprisingly, radiation seems to be the most dangerous and important factor behind tobacco lung damage. ... The unnecessary radiation delivered from soil-damaging, synthetic chemical fertilizers can easily be reduced through the use of alternative phosphate sources including organic fertilizers. ... Tobacco smokers can also use this information to avoid radioactive brands of tobacco. American Spirit is one of a few companies that offers an organic line of cigarettes, and organic cigars are also available from a few companies. - Radioactive tobacco


The best thing about organic cigs is the fact that they aren’t allowed to use radioactive fertilizer. This means that you won’t get a large dose of radiation like regular cigs. ... Actually smoking organic cigarettes is MUCH better than smoking commercial american grown cigarettes. American tobacco growers use phosphate fertilizers that are tainted with radioactive Polonium and Lead. The metals get stuck in bifurcations in our lungs which results in large amounts of ionizing radiation. This radiation causes about 97% of all lung cancers. Organically grown tobacco makes no use of contaminated fertilizer and hence you are ALOT LESS LIKELY to get cancer from smoking. ... Get all the chemicals out and the radioactive fertilizers and you have the same stuff or close to what the american indians were smoking and they had NO cancer. - Blog comments


Radiation comes from commercial tobacco because it is grown with radioactive fertilizers that leave Polonium 210 and Lead 210 concentrated in the tobacco. This is the major cause of cancer. Organic tobacco lacks these radioactive carcinogens, (yes it contains dozens of other carcinogens so it is not safe) but those dozens of other carcinogens only cause 10% of tobacco’s cancerous effects. Blog comment

Is there any truth to the claims that the "organic" label implies a lower amount of radiation?

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@Sklivvz: What do you mean by "so many"? –  endolith Jul 5 '11 at 14:43
(1) Do organic cigarettes contain polonium? (2) Is organic tobacco cultivated without phosphates? (3) Is radioactivity the agent that makes cigarettes carcinogenic? (4) Are orgainc cigarettes safe? –  Sklivvz Jul 5 '11 at 15:49
@Sklivvz: Sorry, I don't see any reason to split it, and others seem to think it's a good question. I'm not asking if organic cigarettes are safe in general. I'm specifically asking whether they contain polonium, which is inherently related to whether they were cultivated with phosphates. –  endolith Jul 5 '11 at 18:20
@Adam: I don't think most Geiger counters can detect alpha radiation. They need a very thin window to the detector or it will all be blocked. –  endolith Jul 6 '11 at 1:09
@endolith You can get Geiger-Mueller tubes, the sensor that Geiger counters use, that detect alpha radiation. They are a little more expensive and delicate than those that detect primarily beta and gamma radiation, but they are readily available. The real problem is that Geiger-Mueller tubes are not the best tool for checking foodstuffs for radiation, and further you need about 5kg (11 lb) of material to get a reasonable reading: bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-12/… But it would work for comparison purposes. –  Adam Davis Jul 6 '11 at 3:04

3 Answers 3

The Straight Dope has a good article on this, essentially refuting the claim.

But tobacco's hardly the only place one encounters polonium. Other plants absorb it too, meaning it's in the food we eat, possibly as much as 20 cigarettes' worth in a day's intake; at any given time our bodies contain about 23,000 cigarettes' worth of polonium, largely in the liver, kidneys, spleen, and bone marrow.

According to data from Argonne National Laboratories, the chances of polonium causing fatal cancer in a two-pack-a-day smoker after 25 years may be less than one in 1,000; by contrast, World Health Organization figures suggest that cigarettes kill about half of all smokers, with half of those deaths coming in middle age.

It also says that the quote from Everett Koop (Surgeon General, alleged in the ACSA net article to have said "tobacco radiation is probably responsible for 90% of tobacco-related cancer") can't be tracked down (quoted on the web thousands of times, but no indication of when and on what programme he allegedly said it).

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We don't eat cigarettes, and we don't inhale food as fine particles into our lungs, so I don't know why they compare the two. –  endolith Aug 11 '14 at 17:41

Of your various questions, I think the only useful response is to your title: Are Organic Cigarettes Free of Radioactive Material?

The answer is obviously No.

There are naturally occurring radioactive materials all over the planet - and radiation does get everywhere, especially since Trinity and Bikini etc.

You may have valid questions as @Sklivvz said - but you should ask 1 question at a time.

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The claim is talking about levels above the natural background –  endolith Jul 6 '11 at 1:14
@endolith: not the way the question is worded. He asks "are organic cigarettes FREE of radioactive materials". The answer is clearly NO. –  jwenting Jul 6 '11 at 5:32
@jwenting: technicalities aside, this would probably better belong in a comment, not as a (useless) answer. –  Dave Jul 6 '11 at 8:35
Or be bold, and edit the question to make sense, while preserving the OP's intent. –  Oddthinking Jul 6 '11 at 8:53
Good to see pedantry is alive and well on the internet. The question states that cigarettes are the biggest source of radiation exposure for a typical American, and asks if organic cigarettes are free of "this excess" radioactive material. It's obviously not talking about the background levels that are present in everything. –  endolith Jul 6 '11 at 12:29

I have been intensely researching this subject, and I have found several of the same claims from several different places. The fact is that Polonium 210 (210Po) is a very radioactive agent. The tobacco plant readily absorbs the 210Po because it mistakes it for a nutrient that it needs. Phosphate fertilizers, which are used by all of the major commercial cigarette manufactures because they are cheaper to use, contain 210Po. 210Po causes up to 97% of cancer-related smoking deaths. Organic cigarettes cannot use phosphate fertilizers, only natural fertilizers. Therefore they do not contain 210Po, and hence - they are a lot better for you, if you must smoke.


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Welcome to Skeptics!. Thank you so much for providing references. This is a huge step above the typical first-poster. However, you make some bold claims which I can't see supported by your references. If you could point out where you found this (ideally with a quote to protect against link-rot) that would help. For example, the claim that Polonium is the cause of 97% of cancer-related smoking deaths is extraordinary, but can't see any support for it in your references. –  Oddthinking Jun 26 '13 at 2:00
1) "organic" crops can use phosphate based fertilisers. 2) Po can enter a plant through other means than phosphate based fertilisers. 3) your claim that Polonium causes the vast majority of cancer related deaths from smoking is laughable. –  jwenting Jun 26 '13 at 5:38
"210Po causes up to 97% of cancer-related smoking deaths." Do you have a reference for that? –  endolith Jun 26 '13 at 13:42
The second reference does say "Former United States Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated that radioactivity, rather than tar, accounts for at least 90% of all smoking-related lung cancers." which is close, but I would like to see a more direct reference for that claim. –  Oddthinking Jun 26 '13 at 15:55

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