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Radioactivity In Cigarette Smoke

By: Chris Cavanaugh

This experiment was conducted as the result of a debate which arose in the CDV700Club group several years ago. My contention was cigarettes and the resulting smoke contained no detectable levels of radioactive substances. In order to prove the other member wrong, I decided to set up an experiment that would prove or disprove the argument.

The equipment used is relatively simple. To collect cigarette smoke a Sharper Image Ionic breeze was used. I had noticed that typically the dust that would adhere to the electrostatic foils had a yellowish tinge to it, more than likely from the nicotine found in the smoke. Since it appeared that it was collecting smoke, it appeared to be an ideal device for collecting and concentrating particulates from the smoke.

The radiation detection device was a simple SE International Digilert with an LND 712 end window GM tube. It is sensitive to alpha, beta and gamma radiation, so the presence of a large range range of radioactive materials can be detected. In order to detect minute amounts of radioactivity, one needs a very sensitive detector, or the ability to measure radioactivity over a long period of time. The Digilert can be set to measure total counts, or Counts per Minute, but to avoid errors I hooked the unit via audio patch cable to my laptop, and used the CDV Counter software to count for me.

I will not mention the brand of cigarettes directly, however it was a popular light brand of cigarettes.

In order to establish a background rate, I cleaned the foils with dish soap and water, dried them, and ran the Ionic Breeze for two hours. I then placed the gm counter roughly two centimeters from the center of the foil, and did a five minute count. Fortunately for the sake of this experiment Yukon, Oklahoma has very little radon. The average after five minutes was 12 CPM.

After cleaning the foils, I then proceeded to turn on the Ionic Breeze, and blow the smoke from five cigarettes into it during a two hour time period. I removed the foils and noticed a slight amount of dust on them, and decided that it might be a god time to take some readings. A five minute count revealed 15 counts per minute, a two CPM difference over the control.

The experiment was repeated two times after that, and again the count was 15 CPM, and the last was 16 CPM average. Finally, another control was taken, and it was 12 CPM. Apparently there is something to cigarette smoke and cigarettes containing radioactive material. It appears that the smoke may have some uknown radioactive material in it, that may be inhaled.

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