I was reminded of this on reading an article in the FT a couple of weeks ago.
British American Tobacco has started clinical trials of a cigarette designed to reduce the harm caused by existing products.
Some 300 volunteers in Germany took part in the first six-week trial, which showed that prototypes substantially reduced exposure to some “toxicants” – harmful compounds in tobacco smoke. The results are published on Monday in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.This research is being taken very seriously by BAT according to one of their boffins.
David O’Reilly, BAT group scientific director, said the prototype cigarettes would not be introduced as a new product line but, if further research showed they cut the risk of smoking, the technology used to produce them would be transferred to existing cigarettes.
Mr O’Reilly pointed out that non-smoking tobacco and nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes and snus (Swedish mouth tobacco), are already “known to pose a substantially lower risk than cigarettes”.
“We don’t know whether it will be possible to prove scientifically that reduced toxicant cigarettes reduce health risks,” he added. “But we believe reducing smokers’ exposure to cigarette smoke toxicants continues to be an important research objective, given the numbers of people who smoke and the numbers who are likely to continue to smoke for the foreseeable future.”It would appear from this that BAT are talking about a new form of harm reduction ... one for smokers too!
Now, it all seemed very sciencey on first read so nothing I could get a handle on writing about. However, a video has since been published which a more enlightened member of the tobacco control industry recently critiqued on Twitter by concluding that "the science is sound".
Now, if I'm understanding this right, the operative word here is "exposure". In the past, attempts were made to reduce harm with innovations such as holes in the filter, for example, but each idea reduced the harmful elements and also the level of nicotine, resulting in compensatory behaviour. This new research looks to be targeted at reducing just the elements which are by-products of smoking, not the nicotine itself.
A quick Google search shows that tobacco control should be thrilled with the idea of less harmful cigarettes. After all, it is something they have been demanding for a long time with papers such as "Existing technologies to reduce specific toxicant emissions in cigarette smoke" and "Reducing Levels of Toxic Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke: A New Healthy People 2010 Objective".
But, and it is a big but, it's the hysterical tobacco control industry - and their many irrational prejudices - we are dealing with here, as The Lancet pointed out way back in 1991.
In 1988, a major US tobacco company released details of a highly innovative type of cigarette that heats rather than burns tobacco. The smoke particles were virtually tar-free, consisting mainly of water, glycerol, and a small amount of propylene glycol. The nicotine yield was low-0-3 mg. Apart from a carbon monoxide yield of 10-6 mg, amounts of other noxious gases were negligible compared with conventional cigarettes, as was the biological activity in extensive tests. In terms of the aims for product modification laid down by the UK Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health, this would seem a near-perfect low-tar cigarette, and there is no doubt that it would be less harmful than most other brands on the market.
Far from welcoming it in the USA, the American Medical Association, the Heart and Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, and others combined to petition and speak against it at a special Hearing before a Subcommittee of the House of Representatives." Eventually the product was labelled as a nicotine delivery system and attempts to market it as a tobacco product were abandoned by the company, who meanwhile remain free to promote conventional cigarettes to the 50 million Americans who still smoke after decades of antismoking policies.Y'see, in an ideal world - you know, one in which tobacco control were actually concerned about health - BAT would be applauded for pursuing this kind of research, perhaps even be invited to sit round a table with altruistic anti-smokers excited about the game-changing health benefits which could be in the offing. After all, a tobacco product with all harm removed should surely be a winner all round. Just imagine millions who enjoy tobacco being able to do so without the harmful chemicals we are constantly harangued about; imagine the 'savings' to the health service; not to mention savings to the government who would no longer be required to spend billions on nagging smokers to give up, but instead could enjoy the global fruits of successful British businesses.
Sigh. If only. Instead, anything BAT's labs discover is likely to be roundly ignored however beneficial to health it may be, as another FT article in 2009 describes.
The BAT research and development centre may be better equipped than most, but that largesse is not its defining characteristic. Rather, it’s the fact that Gaca’s results, no matter how interesting, will not be discussed freely with her fellow scientists outside BAT. For the past decade, academic scientists in Britain have maintained a blanket ban on accepting funding from the tobacco industry or taking part in joint activities – a decision made under pressure from medical charities.
The academic ban is enforced with two powerful weapons: the threat of adverse publicity for anyone accepting tobacco money, and the medical charities’ spending power. The charities will not fund research at any institution collaborating with a tobacco company. No university would allow, say, its chemistry department to embark on a joint research project with BAT if that meant the Wellcome Trust cut off funding to the biology department.Still, for those who worry about the advance of e-cigs, you might be encouraged to know that harm reduction isn't just a concept designed for vapers, snus users and quitters putting their faith into the woo of woeful pharma products. In the future, smokers may be able to benefit from innovation too.
Unless anti-smokers continue to prove they couldn't give a fig about health, that is.