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Bloody filter

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A major row is brewing within the tobacco industry after a new cigarette brand launched in Greece captured 6% of the market in the first month, all because of the health claims made for its filter. BF brand, made by local manufacturer Sekap, contains a new, three-part filter, the Biofilter, whose central section contains carbon impregnated with haemoglobin.

According to the two former medical researchers who invented it, the filter carries out chemical reactions which otherwise take place in the body. Golden Filter, the company set up to produce their invention, explained to Tobacco Reporter (February 1998), a tobacco industry trade journal, that the filter can be considered “an artificial lung”, whose iron content (in the haemoglobin) creates “ion reactions” which neutralise harmful chemicals in the smoke. These include “oxides, free radicals, trace elements, aldehydes, nitroso-compounds, quinones, benzene derivatives”, which normally cause iron in human cells to carry out the same process, with associated “mutation of DNA and membranes”.

This sort of talk, one imagines, is not often heard from the industry side by reporters working on tobacco trade journals, far less printed by them. No wonder the rest of the industry is nervous; and in view of the rapid success of the company, their nervousness has taken on a note of pique. These are health claims, they say; and tobacco companies traditionally do not make health claims. Overlooking for a moment the countless interviews in which Big Tobacco’s mendacious spokespersons do just that, denying smoking has ever been proved harmful to health, we can see how angry they must be. Here are two people apparently making a lot of money precisely because they are prepared to discuss the unmentionable details of the aetiology of smoking-induced disease.

Some critics say any judgment on health benefits must await proper trials; others say that even if the company has done them, as it claims, its measurements were not carried out to the usual industry standards. An un-named industry scientist says he has tested the filter and it does nothing to reduce carbon monoxide, a claim originally made by Golden Filter, but now dropped. Furthermore, says the mystery critic, “Once haemoglobin is outside of an animal, it becomes inactive by oxidising ... in the atmosphere.” This problem is denied by Golden Filter in a response printed under the Tobacco Reporter article, explaining that the carbon granule pores contain enough moisture to keep it active. (But what’s this talk of an animal? What sort of animal? Cows? Can you get “mad cow disease” from this stuff?)

Meanwhile, a second Greek company has launched a new brand containing the Biofilter, and Sekap is exporting to Cyprus and Romania, with plans for sales to Egypt. This one could run and run, and what makes it different from previous “safer cigarette” projects is that two former professors at a medical school and a clutch of small, independent companies are involved, watched by the big companies which have so often come to grief trying to profit from the safety game without actually admitting there was any need for it.

Golden Filter’s response ends with a quote from one of the inventors: “We, as physicians and scientists, have an obligation to protect those who insist on continuing to smoke, especially young people who either ignore or refuse to admit the health hazards of smoking. We owe it to them.” Far from owing in other ways, he must be in rather healthy credit at the bank.

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