Research indicating that some cigarettes are less harmful is tobacco industry hype meant to mislead the public, a World Health Organization official warned on Monday as a heated debate rages in China over the credibility of tobacco science.
“Low-tar cigarettes, for example, don’t reduce the harm at all,” said Sarah England, a technical officer on tobacco control with the WHO Representative Office in China.
She said tar, nicotine and other smoke emission yields derived from smoking-machine testing do not provide valid estimates of human exposure and there is no conclusive epidemiological or scientific evidence that cigarettes with lower machine-generated smoke yields are less harmful.
The debate on tobacco science flared up in China after Xie Jianping, a researcher known for his studies on low-tar cigarettes, was honored with a seat in the elite Chinese Academy of Engineering earlier this month.
Xie’s accreditation was challenged by Chinese health experts, but some scientists and smokers also came out to defend the 52-year-old researcher, who has spent decades working with a tobacco research institute under the China National Tobacco Corporation (China Tobacco) — the world’s largest cigarette company.
Neither Xie nor authorities with the Chinese Academy of Engineering have publicly commented since the controversy heated up.
“The marketing of cigarettes with stated tar and nicotine yields has resulted in the mistaken belief that those cigarettes are less harmful. It is just a tobacco industry tactic. It is very misleading,” England said.