Safer Cigarettes Patented
But Were Never Made
BBC News - Sci/Tech
LONDON - Tobacco firms could have produced safer cigarettes that would have cut the health risks of smoking and prevented thousands of deaths, researchers said on Wednesday.
A new report from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) showed the international tobacco industry had 57 U.S. patents approved for modifications that could have reduced the chemicals in cigarettes that cause cancer, heart disease and emphysema.
But the tobacco companies never made them because producing safer cigarettes would have been expensive and an admission that the existing ones were "unsafe.''
"The cigarette is like a dirty syringe for taking the drug nicotine. What we now know is that the tobacco companies could have made it less dirty,'' said Dr Martin Jarvis, of the ICRF.
He told a news conference to launch the report that all smokers want is nicotine, but what they get are about 4,000 other compounds in the smoke, many of which are dangerous.
"The tobacco companies are failing to deal with the many toxic compounds in the smoke,'' he said, adding that even a small improvement could save thousands of lives.
John Carlisle, of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, said the allegations were unsubstantiated. He said the industry would look at the report to see if there were items that needed further investigation.
"We don't believe there are any further developments that need considering at the moment,'' he told Reuters.
"What we do refute are the allegations that we are trying to keep anything secret. We are an open industry. We talk to the government regularly. Patents are published and so is much of the scientific evidence.''
The British Medical Association said the tobacco industry has a moral obligation to make their products as safe as possible.
"There are many toxic emissions which technology can eliminate from tobacco smoke and the tobacco industry should be required to remove them by regulation,'' Dr Bill O'Neill, the BMA's science and research adviser, said in a statement.
The report reviewed 25 years of patents for designs to reduce some of the cancer-causing compounds in cigarette smoke.
Companies considered adding catalysts, similar to those on cars, to reduce carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides. Other patents included chemical filters to remove hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulphide and acetaldehyde which could have reduced respiratory illnesses.
"Introducing technologies that would make cigarettes safer gives the tobacco companies a series of headaches,'' said Clive Bates of ASH.
"In producing a safer are acknowledging that the product you have on the market, at present, is dangerous. That is not a route the companies wanted to go down.''
To prove his point, Bates referred to a 1986 internal memo by Patrick Sheehy, a former chief executive of British American Tobacco, which was released during recent tobacco court cases in the United States.
"In attempting to develop a 'safe' cigarette you are, by implication, in danger of being interpreted as accepting that the current product is 'unsafe' and this is not a position I think we should take,'' Sheehy said in the memo.
The report said additional costs to the companies, failure of regulators to set standards, and the development of low-tar cigarettes as an alternative were other reasons why the safer cigarettes were never produced.