Abstract Title:

The Polonium brief: a hidden history of cancer, radiation, and the tobacco industry.

Abstract Source:

Isis. 2009 Sep ;100(3):453-84. PMID: 19960838

Abstract Author(s):

Brianna Rego

Article Affiliation:

Department of History, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2024, USA. brianna.rego@stanford.edu


The first scientific paper on polonium-210 in tobacco was published in 1964, and in the following decades there would be more research linking radioisotopes in cigarettes with lung cancer in smokers. While external scientists worked to determine whether polonium could be a cause of lung cancer, industry scientists silently pursued similar work with the goal of protecting business interests should the polonium problem ever become public. Despite forty years of research suggesting that polonium is a leading carcinogen in tobacco, the manufacturers have not made a definitive move to reduce the concentration of radioactive isotopes in cigarettes. The polonium story therefore presents yet another chapter in the long tradition of industry use of science and scientific authority in an effort to thwart disease prevention. The impressive extent to which tobacco manufacturers understood the hazards of polonium and the high executive level at which the problem and potential solutions were discussed within the industry are exposed here by means of internal documents made available through litigation.

Study Type : Review

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