No Evidence of a 'Safer' Cigarette
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Marketing aside, there is no evidence that the new R.J. Reynolds cigarette, Eclipse, is safer than other brands, critics say.
Advertised as a less-risky alternative to traditional cigarettes, Eclipse is heated rather than burned. Writing in the May 17th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, associate editor Dr. Joan Stephenson argues that this theory remains unproven and that the special cigarettes may present some unique health risks.
According to Stephenson, smokers use Eclipse by lighting a carbon rod at the cigarette's tip. This rod contains a powder derived from tobacco and is surrounded by two mats of glass fibers. Heat passes through the carbon rod to a layer of tobacco and creates a nicotine-filled aerosol, which the smoker inhales. In advertisements, R.J. Reynolds claims that Eclipse may present less risk of cancer and possibly the respiratory diseases chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
However, Stephenson writes, critics--including Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and the American Cancer Society--charge that the tobacco company's scientific evidence has not been independently verified. Moreover, even the company's own scientific advisory panel has said the research on Eclipse's effects on the heart is inconclusive.
Some critics suggest that, similar to the nicotine patch or gum, Eclipse acts more as a nicotine delivery device than a cigarette, and as such should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Besides possibly carrying the same risks of traditional cigarettes, Eclipse may pose health hazards all its own, Stephenson points out. A 1998 study showed that most Eclipse filters were contaminated by glass fibers and particles, likely from the mats surrounding the carbon rod. Animal and epidemiological research has suggested glass fibers are at least as great a cancer risk as asbestos.
And, Stephenson writes, company documents show R.J. Reynolds has been aware that glass particles can be inhaled and remain in the lungs for a long time.
Without independent scientific evidence, Stephenson notes, any claims of health benefits by R.J. Reynolds should be viewed as part of a ``long history'' of deceiving the public.
``At some point, the American public has to learn,'' she writes.