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Uproar in China over Tobacco Company’s Nomination for Science Prize

April 19, 2012


China's health and scientific community is rallying to block the China National Tobacco Corporation from receiving a prestigious national science prize for a research project on cigarettes that are supposedly less harmful.

The huge Chinese tobacco market is dominated by the government monopoly China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC), which is the world's single largest manufacturer of tobacco products. The company claims its research has produced cigarettes that are more flavorful and less harmful. The tobacco giant, with the backing of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, has gotten its research nominated for the 2012 National Award for Science and Technology.

The nomination has sparked outrage among Chinese and international scientific and public health leaders. They say the research claims are intended to counter growing Chinese concerns about the dangers of smoking and boost sales of deadly and addictive cigarettes, which kill about 1.2 million people in China each year. The tobacco industry has long used similar tactics around the world to deceive the public, discourage smokers from quitting and attract new smokers, including children.

'Such misleading information can be very harmful to public health,' Dr. Michael O'Leary, the World Health Organization's representative in China, told the Xinhua news agency. 'There is no safe level of tobacco consumption. The effective way to reduce the harm is to reduce the number of people who smoke or who are exposed to secondhand smoke.'

The campaign against the nomination is gaining steam. China's Ministry of Health and numerous health and scientific authorities have publicly objected. editors at China's foremost science web site, ScienceNet.cn, have even organized a petition against giving the science prize to the tobacco company.

'The tobacco industry simply intends to justify and legalize its interest with confirmation from the government by declaring national awards,' said Wu Yiqun, an activist with the ThinkTank Research Center for Health Development. 'This is a burning shame.'

The tobacco industry has a long history of deceiving smokers about the risks of smoking by marketing some cigarettes as supposedly less harmful than others. In the United States, big tobacco companies were convicted of fraud for marketing cigarettes as 'light' and 'low tar.' Such terms are now banned in the U.S. and a growing number of countries.

The international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, calls for prohibiting deceptive health claims about tobacco products. China must live up to its responsibilities under the treaty to safeguard its citizens from such claims.

The tobacco industry' 'science' must not be honored — it must be exposed as a sham.