Le Polonium 210, l’élément radioactif caché dans la cigarette

Cela fait 40 ans que les industriels du tabac savent que le polonium, agent radioactif, est présent dans leurs cigarettes. Cela ne les a bien sûr pas empêché d’en vendre.

Après avoir analysé des milliers de documents en deux ans, Monique E. Muggli, chercheuse à la Mayo Clinic, dans le Minnesota, a découvert comment les plus grandes compagnies de l’industrie du tabac, notamment Philip Morris, ont sciemment caché aux consommateurs la présence de Polonium 210 dans leurs cigarettes.

L’ampleur de la supercherie

Depuis un procès de 1998 dans l’Etat du Minnesota, perdu par l’industrie du tabac dans, pas moins de 60 millions de documents internes ont été rendus publiques. Parmi tous ces documents, environ 1 500 rapports traitent du Polonium, ce qui prouve que les industries étaient au courant, mais ont tout dissimulé.

Une découverte pas si récente…

C’est en 1964 que l’industrie du tabac s’est rendue compte de la présence du 210 Po, un élément cancérogène et radioactif, dans de nombreuses marques de cigarettes. Ce n’est pas la transformation du tabac par les cigarettiers qui est responsable de la présence de Polonium 210 dans les cigarettes, mais plutôt la méthode de culture du tabac. Ce sont les engrais riches en phosphates qui contaminent les feuilles.

Pourquoi personne n’a rien fait

Dans les années 70-80, l’industrie du tabac a pris des mesures. Philip Morris et d’autres ont tenté de réduire la quantité de polonium, tout en conservant le succès commercial de leurs cigarettes. Malheureusement, il était impossible de combiner les deux. Philip Morris a réussi à réduire la quantité de 210 Po dans ses cigarettes grâce à un solvant, et R.J. Reynolds a commencé à utiliser un filtre spécial dans ses Winston. Les dirigeants les ont arrêté sur-le-champ, de peur de changer le goût du produit. Ils ont également eu peur que le public apprenne ce que le but de ces recherches dissimulait : la présence du polonium.

Toute révélation aurait inévitablement entraîné des procès, ainsi qu’une panique. Le vice-président de Philip Morris, Paul Eichorn, s’est adressé à ses collaborateurs : « Nous ne devons pas réveiller un géant endormi ». Après quoi, les recherches se sont arrêtées, et toutes les preuves ont été dissimulées.

La dangerosité du polonium

Le 210 Po serait à l’origine d’environ 1% des cancers du poumon aux Etats-Unis, ce qui causerait la mort d’environ 1 600 américains par an. Dans le monde entier, ce chiffre s’étendrait à 12 000 par an.

L’affaire n’a pas encore été relayée aux Etats-Unis, bien qu’elle l’ait été en Grande-Bretagne, en France et en Belgique.

Les risques pour les fabricants de tabac

« Il n’y aura probablement pas de condamnation en justice. Ce sont de longues batailles, souvent vaines. Mais l’opinion publique est désormais au courant des combines des cigarettiers, et leur réputation va en pâtir. C’est là qu’est notre victoire. »

Est-ce que je risque de m’empoisonner si j’en fume une, là, maintenant ?

« Oui, il se déposera sur une partie de vos bronches. »

Encore d’autres surprises à découvrir sur le même sujet ?

« (rires) Je ne sais pas, vraiment pas ! Nous travaillons aujourd’hui avec mes collègues de Stanford et du Nicotine Research Center sur le danger des cigarettes au menthol, et sur «Secondhand smoke», la fumée passive. Nous essayons de décrypter la stratégie de l’industrie vis-à-vis des non-fumeurs et des produits qu’ils absorbent. »

L’empoisonnement de Litvinenko

Le polonium fait partie des agents radioactifs les plus toxiques. Il a servi à assassiner l’ex-agent du KGB Alexander Litvinenko, en 2006, à Londres. La dose employée par les assassins était bien plus élevée que celle que l’on retrouve dans une cigarette, ce qui a provoqué sa mort après moins de trois semaines.

Références : 20minutes

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