Philip Morris has knowingly marketed cigarettes with defective filters for 40 years, according to a study published in a special supplement to Tobacco Control, a British Medical Association publication.
The defect is attributed to the release of potentially harmful filter fibers and carbon particles during smoking.
The filter defect was identified by the John L. Pauly, PhD and colleagues from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, who trawled industry papers, scientific and medical databases, US patents and court documents.
They focused their research on 61 documents from Philip Morris, the world’s leading manufacturer of cigarettes.
All the documents dealt with “fall-out,” a term coined by the company itself to describe the plastic-like fibers and carbon granule debris that are released from a filter’s cut surface during smoking. The authors believe that the defect is due primarily to the high speed of the manufacturing process -- 250 cigarettes a second.
A collection of memos from the early 1980s details the results of tests to count and size the fall-out. A protocol for routine testing was devised in 1985 by Philip Morris, but results dating back to 1970 and continuing to 1999 were also found.
The authors identified comparative tests on 130 different types of cigarettes, including well-known brands, in which fall-out occurred. Particles ranged in size from 5 to 120 micrometers, described in one study as “too numerous to count.”
Concerns that there might be risks to human health date back to 1957 in the Philip Morris documents.
The documents showed that the test results had been widely distributed to senior scientists and corporate executives of Philip Morris, but there is no evidence to show that the results were ever made public. Nor is there any documentation to show that the company made any attempts to rectify the fall-out problem, despite the numerous patents awarded for improving cigarette filters, the article continues.
The filter defect, say the authors, is universal and widespread, and is not restricted to a particular brand or type of cigarette. Ninety per cent of all cigarettes sold worldwide are filter-tipped.
Roswell Park Cancer Institute
(Reference: Cigarettes with defective filters marketed for 40 years: what Philip Morris never told smokers 2002; 11 [Suppl 1]: i51-61.)
[Contact: John L. Pauly PhD, British Medical Association]