Anti-smoking campaigners today said plans by one of the world’s largest tobacco companies to launch so-called “safer” cigarettes could cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
British American Tobacco (BAT) denied claims it intends imminently to roll out products developed using reduced harm research – but admitted that producing less-toxic cigarettes is an urgent priority.
A spokeswoman confirmed that it is currently developing new brands which could take advantage of new filtering procedures, but admitted the science around harm-reduction is inconclusive,
She said: “There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. We are working very hard to bring a reduced risk product to market, but we are very, very far away from that.”
The company has also denied suggestions that it had privately spoken of creating a product which could reduce the risk of a smoker developing cancer or heart disease by up to 90%.
“There is no truth in the claim over a 90% reduction in risks, that relates to a study of the use of smokeless tobacco, or Swedish-style snus,” said the spokeswoman.
“That product isn’t lighted and has reduced health risks – but the same figures do not apply to any combustible tobacco product.”
It is thought that BAT may be ready to launch new brands as early as next year - prompting outrage from health campaigners who believe such a move could hinder efforts to reduce the 120,000 annual deaths caused by smoking-related illnesses.
“This is an ongoing project at a development stage, it is possible that there could be a launch in 2006, but it really is far too premature to talk about a launch date,” said the spokeswoman.
In January, rival firm Philip Morris began tests of a new Marlboro Ultra Smooth brand – marketed on the strength of a new carbon filter system.
Critics attacked the marketing slogan ’All of the flavor gets through’ and claimed there was an underlying implication that the cigarettes carry a reduced risk to health.
Many campaigners fear a launch of similar products, claiming that despite strict EU regulations on packaging, customers will be led to believe they are choosing a safer option.
“We have been through all this before with low tar cigarettes. By encouraging people to carry on smoking by switching to supposed low tar or safer brands hundreds of thousands more people have died,” said Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health.
“There is no way of significantly reducing the harm of smoking.”
BAT is understood to be considering the use of new three layer filters to remove toxins from cigarettes and has developed methods of drying out tobacco leaves which are reputed to reduce levels of cancer causing compounds.
Scientists are said to be confident that products using the new technology would look, taste and burn exactly like traditional cigarettes.