Nuclear Cigarettes
Nuclear Cigarettes
Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 5 2010 4:18 PM

Nuclear Cigarettes

The Associated Press reported last week that Mohammad Reza Madani, an official from the Iranian Society for Fighting Smoking, accused cigarette giant Philip Morris of being a Zionist company conspiring against Iran by exporting cigarettes laced with hazardous nuclear materials and pig hemoglobin, a protein found in blood. For these claims, he provided no evidence. 


Hazardous nuclear materials is an overstatement, to say the least, but there's more to this story than some guy in Iran said something crazy . According to the Environmental Protection Agency , cigarettes do contain radioactive elements (as do cat litter, glossy magazines, and Brazil nuts ). Tobacco plants absorb radon from soil, which, coupled with the phosphate fertilizers favored by the tobacco industry, results in a tobacco leaf that contains the decaying radioactive materials lead-210 and polonium-210. These both exist in trace amounts, but according to a study published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences , they could help account for the increased risk of lung cancer in smokers. For its part, the tobacco industry must be at least slightly concerned as far back as in the 1970s, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies were aware of the radioactive materials in their cigarettes and tried unsuccessfully to remove them (by washing tobacco leaves, among other techniques) but kept quiet about what they knew until documents surfaced in 2008 .

What about pig's blood? Hemoglobin the protein found in red blood cells that allows them to carry oxygen actually is used in some cigarette filters to absorb toxins. (It's unconfirmed whether or not Philip Morris' Marlboro brand uses these filters.) The filters were first introduced in Greece as supposedly safer cigarettes, where they're known as Bio-Filters. In the United States, the same technology is marketed as Choice Filters . Hemoglobin's natural binding ability allows it to act as a sort of sponge for a number of chemical agents in tobacco smoke, and, according to its creators, reduces the smoke's toxicity by removing or reducing various chemicals. (The veracity of these claims is unclear, and very little research has been done.)

In early 2008, Dutch author Christien Meindertsma published Pig 05049 , an extensively researched book in which he describes 185 different ways that pigs are used commercially, including as the source for the hemoglobin used in cigarette filters. ( Pig parts also find their way into ammunition, photo paper, heart valves, brakes, chewing gum, porcelain, conditioner, and biodiesel.) The Jakarta Globe reported the story in April after the Indonesian Consumer Protection Agency demanded an investigation (pig products are banned under both Muslim and Jewish dietary laws and would also pose problems for vegetarians). If an investigation is being conducted, its results have not yet been made public.

But if this is a Zionist conspiracy, it's a poorly conceived one, since both radioactive cigarettes and hemoglobin filters are available in the United States and Philip Morris is a top importer and distributor in Israel. In fact, in 2000, an Israeli lawsuit demanded $8 billion from Philip Morris for failing to disclose the radioactivity of its cigarettes.