Vittorio Hernandez

A study by UCLA researchers released claims that tobacco companies had known for decades that cigarette smoke was bad for the health, but continues to hide that information from the public.

The claim is based on a UCLA analysis of previously unexamined industry documents. Although the industry initiated investigations into the possible effects of polonium-210 or the radioactive particles from cigarette smoke back into the 1960s, there was no single document that showed the results of the probe which found that sufficient levels of polonium-210 can cause cancer.

The research, which covered 25 years, traced the deaths of 120 to 138 people for every 1,000 regular smokers to the radioactivity. The finding belies common belief that only the chemicals in the cigarette cause lung cancer, said Hrayr Karageuzian, lead author of the study.

Karageuzian said that the tobacco firms rejected methods that would help remove polonium-210 from tobacco because of fears that smokers may lost the instant nicotine rush that causes their addiction to the vice.

David Sutton, spokesman of Philip Morris USA, said the firm does not add polonium-210 to its products but insisted it is a naturally occurring element in the air that had been widely tackled by the public health community for years.

Greg Connolly, director of Harvard University's Center for Global Tobacco Control, agreed that polonium-210 has long been identified. He said the research shows there is a need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to further regulate the tobacco industry.

The study, published in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research journal, pushed the FDA to make removal of the radioactive particles from tobacco product its top priority. The call is timely since the FDA started this week to mandate tobacco firms to disclose detailed information about new products and changes to existing ones.

The disclosure is part of the 2009 law that granted the FDA regulatory power over tobacco products. The FDA issued on Wednesday the draft guidance that stipulates every change made by tobacco firms must be disclosed which would be an opportunity for the regulator to stop the companies from making their products even more harmful, addictive or appealing to smokers.

The FDA would require results of research about the health risks of the products, information about components, ingredients, addictives and properties of the products and full description of manufacturing and processing methods. New or changed products, before they could be put out in the market, must be substantially equivalent to the tobacco companies' existing products on or before Feb. 15, 2007.


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