Caring for the customer

时间:2019-03-08 08:16:29166网络整理admin

By Michael Day CIGARETTE manufacturers abandoned dozens of technologies that could have reduced the death toll from their products, according to a new report from two leading British anti-smoking groups. It claims that tobacco barons feared that marketing a “safer” cigarette would amount to an admission that smoking is dangerous. The report, from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, details 58 patented methods for cutting levels of toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke. None has yet seen the light of day. These include a catalytic method to remove carbon monoxide and nitric oxide from smoke (US 4182348), registered by British American Tobacco (BAT) in 1980. Philip Morris filed a similar patent (US 4301817) in 1981, which also describes a process to cut levels of hydrogen cyanide. The cost of implementing these technologies may have been one of the reasons they were abandoned. But ASH believes concerns about the legal difficulties in admitting the dangers posed by existing products were far more significant. “Marketing a cigarette on the basis it had less of a tasteless gas like carbon monoxide would effectively mean admitting the product was bad for you,” says Clive Bates, director of ASH. “Then you would move into the area of product liability with the smoker who has had heart disease made worse by inhaling carbon monoxide.” Although cigarette manufacturers have promoted lower-tar brands for decades, Bates says that the industry has been careful not to claim these are safer. Instead, they have been marketed as tasting milder. Bates also points to a confidential memo written in 1986 by Patrick Sheehy, then chief executive of BAT, uncovered last year during litigation in the US. It 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.” Chris Proctor, head of science and regulatory affairs at BAT’s London headquarters, disputes Bates’s claims. He says that many of the technologies were not developed because they might in theory increase levels of other toxic chemicals. But Proctor could not confirm whether BAT had conducted tests to exclude this possibility. It is unclear to what extent the shelved patents could have cut premature deaths. But Bates says: “If you could make cigarettes 10 per cent less dangerous, that’s 12 000 lives saved each year in the UK alone.” Among the most dangerous substances in cigarette smoke are carcinogens called nitrosamines. The new report lists six patented processes for reducing or eliminating these chemicals from cigarette smoke. The tobacco giants have never implemented any of them, but a small company called Star Scientific of Petersburg, Virginia, hopes to introduce nitrosamine-free cigarettes next year. In 1998, the company patented a method (US 5803081) of microwaving tobacco to kill the bacteria that create the right chemical environment for the production of nitrosamines. “If their process is effective, it should be applied to cigarette manufacturing everywhere,” says John Slade, a specialist in nicotine addiction at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. “But it might require legislation.” The report will be seized upon by sick smokers who are trying to sue tobacco firms for damages. They have been experiencing mixed fortunes. Last week in Britain, for example, 46 smokers abandoned their action against Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco after a judge ruled they had waited too long after contracting lung cancer before launching their suit. But Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston and founder of the Tobacco Products Liability Project advocacy group, believes the report could precipitate further lawsuits: “The companies knew how to make changes that would mean many fewer deaths. But they continued to make cigarettes as they are. This is a criminal level of negligence.” Proctor rejects this charge: