- 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
- "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
- "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
- 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
- "Introducing technologies that would
make cigarettes safer gives the tobacco companies a series of headaches,''
said Clive Bates of ASH.
- "In producing a safer cigarettes...you
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.