Japan Tobacco: Nicotine, Yes; Radioactivity, No

Japan’s smokers can breathe easy, more or less: whatever else is in their cigarettes, there’s no radiation, according to Japan japan cigarettesTobacco Inc.

The world’s third-largest tobacco company by sales volume said Tuesday that in order to “allay consumer concern” about the possibility of radiation contamination in cigarettes, it has been conducting tests since mid-August on the domestic cured leaf tobacco harvest to seek out traces of radioactive material in the wake of the country’s worst-ever nuclear incident at Fukushima Daiichi.

It ran tests on samples from all 35 municipalities where this year’s harvest was grown, prior to purchasing the leaves, and the company, known here as JT, said none of the results exceeded its own standard of 500 Bq/kilogram for radioactive cesium-133 and cesium-137 and 2,000 Bq/kg of radioactive iodine. JT adopted the same benchmark as the level set by the Food Sanitation Law for vegetables in the absence of comparable provisions established for leaf tobacco.

The samples originated from Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba and Shizuoka prefectures, some of which are among locations where the government banned shipments of certain food items after elevated levels of radioactive materials were detected. Above-normal levels of radioactive iodine-131 were found in spinach grown in Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures as well as in the leafy garland chrysanthemum from Chiba prefecture. Most recently, the government temporarily restricted shipments of cows from Tochigi prefecture and other regions neighboring the unsteady Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant when radioactive cesium was detected in the livestock in July.

Trace amounts of combined radioactive cesium-134 and 137 were detected in 27 of the 35 samples, JT said. The highest amount measured 217 Bq/kg in a sample from Kashima, Ibaraki prefecture. Levels of radioactive Iodine-131 weren’t high enough to be detected in any of the samples.

For added customer reassurance, JT says it has several more safety checks in place before the cigarettes reach customers’ mouths. The company plans to re-examine the tobacco at three more junctures – testing it before it is processed, before use in finished products and one last monitoring check before shipments are sent off to the market.

Of course, one factor that may have had a positive influence on JT’s tests is that tobacco cultivated in Fukushima prefecture, home of the troubled nuclear plant, will not be available, unlike last year when Fukushima ranked 7th among the country’s tobacco growing prefectures.

By Yoree Koh

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