'Non-burning' cigarette no healthier, study says
A new ''non-burning'' cigarette that R.J. Reynolds says has an 80 percent lower level of cancer-causing chemicals than typical ultralight brands is actually just as carcinogenic or more, according to a study by the state Department of Public Health.
The tobacco maker says the Eclipse cigarette is ''the next best choice'' to quitting, and is 64 to 87 percent less carcinogenic than ultralights.
But state lab tests show that when compared to RJR's own low-tar Now King Size Hard Pack ultralights, Eclipse has 734 percent more acetaldehyde and 475 percent more acrolein, two cancer-causing agents.
''This is truly astonishing,'' said the DPH commissioner, Dr. Howard Koh. ''There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. It is an oxymoron. These health claims by RJR are so blatantly false.''
RJR, in a statement, disputed the state's findings, saying the tests are not valid because they involved ''a limited set of data.'' The company said it undertook far broader testing to support its claim that Eclipse poses fewer health risks than other cigarettes.
Koh said yesterday he is asking state attorneys general to investigate whether RJR is violating the 1998 agreement that settled a multistate lawsuit against the tobacco industry and forbids cigarette makers from misrepresenting the health consequences of their product.
Koh, along with three national tobacco control groups, is also asking the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Drug Administration to investigate the advertising claims by RJR.
Public health officials are especially worried that smokers or those who have quit will be lured to use Eclipse because of RJR's promotions of the product as posing lower risks of cancer or other health problems.
''We are very concerned that former smokers will come back and smoke Eclipse, thinking it is safer than any cigarette in the market, and that current smokers using light cigarettes will switch to Eclipse and not quit,'' said Dr. Gregory Connolly, director of the DPH's Tobacco Control Program.
Eclipse is now available through the company's Web site and in retail stores in Texas.
Koh says his agency's lab tests provide solid evidence that Eclipse is as dangerous as or more dangerous than the two other ultra-low tar brands, Now King Size and Brown & Williamson's Carlton King Size Soft Pack, that his agency used as comparison. Two of the most potent carcinogens, Benzo(a)pyrine, or BaP, and NNK, were found at roughly equal levels in the Carlton and Eclipse cigarettes, but were far lower in Now King Size.
In a statement to the Globe, RJR strongly defended its promotion of Eclipse cigarettes as a safer cigarette. The company said that its advertising is supported by its own lab tests, which it says include chemical analysis, biological and toxological testing, human testing, and independent scientific verification.
''The smoke-chemistry comparisons that are being reported by some public health organizations represent just a few small pieces of a very large puzzle,'' said Gary T. Burger, RJR's executive vice president of research and development.
RJR's lab tests compared the Eclipse with Merit Ultralight. The company said a number of carcinogens contained in Eclipse were at levels 64 percent and 87 percent lower than in Merit.
''The smoke from Eclipse contains far less of many of the compounds found in cigarette smoke that are believed to contribute to the risk of cancer and certain other illnesses,'' RJR states on its Web site.
According to RJR, Eclipse burns only about 3 percent as much tobacco as other cigarettes, making it a ''non-burning'' cigarette. It contains a piece of charcoal at one end that, when it is lit, produces heat. When a person inhales, the heat is sucked across the cigarette, leaving most of the tobacco unburned. The cigarette releases nicotine, glycerine, carbon monoxide and other toxins, but not at the levels of typical cigarettes, RJR says.
The original version of the Eclipse that appeared in 1996 contained far lower levels of toxins, the DPH study says. The department speculates that an RJR redesign for the current version, which created a hole in the filter, increased the toxins.
Connolly will release the Massachusetts research at a press conference in Washington and will be joined by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society.