The safer cigarette: what the tobacco industry could do (and why it hasen’t done it…)

Wednesday 03 March 1999

Press release
EMBARGO 11:00 hours
Wednesday 3rd March 1999
Action on Smoking
and Health

The tobacco industry could have developed cigarettes that would have prevented thepremature deaths of thousands of smokers–but these new safer cigarettes have never beenmade available.  A new report launched today by ASH and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund shows that the tobacco industry has investigated and patented technologies that wouldreduce the substances in cigarette smoke that cause cancer, heart disease and emphysema.

Speaking at the launch of the report, held at the Patent Office in London this morning,Dr. Martin Jarvis of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s Health Behaviour Unit said:”The cigarette is like a dirty syringe for taking the drug nicotine.  What wenow know is that the tobacco companies could have made it less dirty.  The currentproducts cause premature death for half of all long-term smokers, so even a smallimprovement could save thousands of lives.”

Examples of the patented innovations which could lead to safer cigarettes include:

  • The addition of catalysts to cigarettes to reduce carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides–a similar approach to the catalytic converters used to clean motor vehicle exhausts. If used, this approach could reduce the burden of heart disease.
  • Manufacturing processes that would reduce the levels of at least one nitrosamine in smokers’ lung tissue, thus reducing the incidence of cancer.
  • Chemical filters that would remove large quantities of hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulphide while also removing acetaldehyde. This would help to reduce respiratory illnesses.

Possible reasons for the tobacco companies’ reluctance to make safer cigarettes arerevealed by their own internal records. Confidential tobacco industry documentsreleased during litigation in the United States show that ‘safe’ cigarettes created thelegal and marketing problem of admitting that the existing products were ‘unsafe’.

Clive Bates of ASH said: “They could hardly bring out a new product advertised as’low-cancer’ or ‘heart-safe’ as it would send an very unappealing signal to smokers andcause serious headaches for their lawyers.  If they couldn’t market the advantages ofthe new products, how could they recover the costs?”

ASH and Imperial Cancer Research Fund believe that the European Union should requiretobacco companies to measure and disclose all the hazardous constituents of tobacco smokeand then reduce them.  In almost every other consumer product, regulators requiresafety and quality standards–tobacco products should be no exception.  The EuropeanCommission is currently developing proposals to regulate the tar content of cigarettes.

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund is dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure ofall forms of cancer.  Its 1,000 scientists and doctors are at the forefront of theworldwide effort to find new answers to cancer.  The charity relies overwhelmingly onvoluntary funding to carry out its vital work.

ASH-Action on Smoking and Health is an organisation that provides information about allaspects of tobacco and works to advance policies and measures that will help to preventthe addiction, disease and unnecessary premature death caused by smoking.



For a copy of the full report please contact Nikki Wade, Project Manager at
ASH, on (020) 7739 5902. The report is also available as a pdf here. This also links to the full on-line patents themselves.

Notes for Editors:

Over 500,000 EU citizens die prematurely each year as a result of smoking tobacco. T hesmoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, some of which are responsible for cancer, heartdisease and respiratory illnesses in smokers.  These chemicals include carbonmonoxide, hydrogen cyanide, nitrosamines, benzo(a)pyrene, and heavy metals.


Contact Clive Bates, Director (020) 7739 5902
Nikki Wade
(020) 7739 5902 (office)
Tonya Gillis
Imperial Cancer Research Fund
0171 269 3614 (office) 0498 806839 (mobile)

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