Radioactivity of tobacco leaves and radiation dose induced from smoking

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2009 Feb;6(2):558-567. doi: 10.3390/ijerph6020558. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


The radioactivity in tobacco leaves collected from 15 different regions of Greece and before cigarette production was studied in order to find out any association between the root uptake of radionuclides from soil ground by the tobacco plants and the effective dose induced to smokers from cigarette tobacco due to the naturally occurring primordial radionuclides , such as 226Ra and 210Pb of the uranium series and 228Ra of the thorium series and/or man-made radionuclides, such as 137Cs of Chernobyl origin. Gamma-ray spectrometry was applied using Ge planar and coaxial type detectors of high resolution and high efficiency. It was concluded that the activities of the radioisotopes of radium, 226Ra and 228Ra in the tobacco leaves reflected their origin from the soil by root uptake rather than fertilizers used in the cultivation of tobacco plants. Lead-210 originated from the air and was deposited onto the tobacco leaves and trapped by the trichomes. Potassium-40 in the tobacco leaves was due to root uptake either from soil or from fertilizer. The cesium radioisotopes 137Cs and 134Cs in tobacco leaves were due to root uptake and not due to deposition onto the leaf foliage as they still remained in soil four years after the Chernobyl reactor accident, but were absent from the atmosphere because of the rain washout (precipitation) and gravitational settling. The annual effective dose due to inhalation for adults (smokers) for 226Ra varied from 42.5 to 178.6 microSv/y (average 79.7 microSv/y), while for 228Ra from 19.3 to 116.0 microSv/y (average 67.1 microSv/y) and for 210Pb from 47.0 to 134.9 microSv/y (average 104.7 microSv/y), that is the same order of magnitude for each radionuclide. The sum of the effective doses of the three radionuclides varied from 151.9 to 401.3 microSv/y (average 251.5 microSv/y). The annual effective dose from 137Cs of Chernobyl origin was three orders of magnitude lower as it varied from 70.4 to 410.4 nSv/y (average 199.3 nSv/y).

Keywords: Radioactivity; radiation dose; smoking; tobacco leaves.

MeSH terms

  • Background Radiation*
  • Humans
  • Nicotiana / chemistry*
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry*
  • Radiation Dosage*
  • Smoking*