Traces of polonium present in tobacco recently raised questions at the European Commission, while traces of radioactive and other substances – such as radon, polonium and cadmium – contained in tobacco leaves open questions as to whether they should be regulated at EU level.
Following media reports about the dangers of polonium contained in cigarettes, the Commission is studying whether or not the substance should be included in the list of regulated ingredients, a spokesperson for the EU executive told EurActiv.
Up until now the EU has regulated additional substances found in tobacco products such as nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide, but did not take into account the tobacco leaf itself, running counter to World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.
Asked whether such highly dangerous radioactive and poisonous substance could be regulated at all, the Commission official responded that this was a difficult question to answer.
Tobacco firms knew about the presence of polonium in cigarettes and the dangers it involved, but the results of the research were not published for fear of “waking a sleeping giant”, according to Monique Muggli of Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, quoted in the September edition of the American Journal of Public Health.
Polonium 210 is a highly radioactive substance which has been found to cause lung cancer in 90% of cases. It is this very same substance which poisoned former KGB agent Alexander V. Litvinenko.
Regarding the relationship between polonium 210 and the radioactivity of cigarettes, Muggli said: “The companies wanted to hide from that issue publicly. They continue to minimize the recognition of radioactivity in their products in smoking and health litigation,” quoted in The Independent, a British daily.
So far, the Commission’s tobacco legislation has set limits on nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide yields to be applied in all member states. In line with this, the EU executive is putting pressure on the industry to add more visual warnings about the danger of smoking on cigarette packets themselves.
Source: The EurActiv network
- Directive 2001/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council
- Second Report on the Application of the Tobacco Products Directive
- The New York Times: Puffing on Polonium
- The Independent: Tobacco firms kept quiet on polonium role in cigarettes
- PR-inside: Health
- Le Vif/L’Express: Du polonium dans les cigarettes
- Le Figaro : Le secret du polonium 210 dans la fumée de cigarette
- TF1 France : Tabagisme – Du polonium 210 dans le tabac : les fabriquants savaient
- Reuters : New studies on menthol and Polonium 210 in cigarettes show need for FDA regulation