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'Safe cigarette' claimed to cut cancer by 90%
BRITISH American Tobacco (BAT) is to launch a controversial “safer cigarette” designed to cut the risk of smoking-related diseases such as cancer and heart failure by up to 90%. The cigarettes use tobacco treated to produce lower levels of cancer-causing chemicals. They also incorporate a new type of filter said to remove more of the remaining toxins.

The company wants to launch the cigarettes in 2006 but has kept the move secret, knowing it would infuriate anti-smoking groups.

Campaigners will dismiss any attempt to reinvent cigarettes as a less harmful product as a cynical ploy to recruit more smokers when the habit is already killing 114,000 Britons a year and the government is proposing curbs on smoking in public places.

Past claims to have found safer forms of smoking, such as the introduction of low-tar cigarettes in the 1970s, have all proven false. They were found to be as harmful as high-tar versions because people smoked more and took deeper drags.

Despite this history, BAT executives talk privately of “risk free” or low-risk cigarettes and suggest they might cut the chance of disease by as much as 90%.

John Britton, professor of epidemiology at Nottingham University, said: “Anything involving inhaling smoke is unsafe. These new cigarettes could be more like jumping from the 15th floor instead of the 20th: theoretically the risk is less but you still die.”

This weekend, BAT confirmed plans for the launch. David Betteridge, a spokesman, said: “They look and taste like normal cigarettes.”

Betteridge refused to divulge the name under which the cigarettes would be marketed or give details of how they worked. They were designed by scientists at the firm’s research centre in Southampton.

The cigarettes use “trionic” filters with three layers, each of which removes a different set of toxic compounds, while still allowing nicotine — the main addictive element in tobacco — to enter the lungs. The tobacco is also mixed with an inert “chalky” substance to retain more of the toxins in the ash.

BAT also claims to have improved the way it dries tobacco leaves to reduce cancer-causing toxins when burnt.

Even if they benefit smokers, such cigarettes would not prevent passive smoking. Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “Cigarette smoke contains about 4,000 different chemicals, many of which are toxic. These filters and tobaccos can make no more than a marginal difference.”

BAT will not be making any explicit claims that its cigarettes are safer, but will instead describe the product as “potentially safer”. It is likely to focus its advertising on the new technology, hoping that smokers will assume they are safer.

Betteridge said the company accepted there was “no such thing” as a truly safe cigarette and that the best way to minimise risk was to stop smoking.

The Sunday Times