by Sharon Seltzer
More than 8 million of the 47 million U.S. adult cigarette smokers have a serious illness caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco also costs the economy $96 billion a year for medical care. To counter the bad press, the tobacco industry has created new “light” tobacco products they claim are less harmful. In order to make that claim, a quirk in the law requires the products to be tested on thousands of animals.
Two years ago, Congress passed a law that requires tobacco companies to prove that any of its products labeled “light” or “mild” significantly reduce the risk of tobacco-related disease to smokers and benefit the health of the population. The Food and Drug Administration was placed in charge of regulating the law. They drafted guidelines that required animal testing to be part of the process.
The National Cancer Institute, Institute for Medicine, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and PETA have all called for an end to the animal testing clause.
The National Cancer Institute doesn’t believe the light cigarettes are less harmful to a person’s health. In a recent report they stated, “There is no convincing evidence that changes in cigarette design… have resulted in an important decrease in the disease burden caused by cigarette use.”
Bingxuan Wang, a toxicology researcher with the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is very concerned about the number of animals that will needlessly die during these tests.
“The bottom line is, tobacco – light or not – poses serious risks to the user’s health and to the health of others. Wasting countless more animal lives to prove the safety of an inherently harmful product, especially when such tests in the past have been misleading, would be grossly counterproductive for human health,” said Wang.
The Institute of Medicine said, “It is not possible to make laboratory animals use tobacco products the way humans do, and there are inherent interspecies differences that prevent meaningful extrapolation of human effects.” Experiments conducted on animals 50 years ago found that tobacco did not cause lung cancer, but that information was obviously incorrect in humans.
PETA said, “In some of the horrendous tobacco tests that could be conducted, rats would be forced to breathe tobacco smoke for as long as six hours a day for months at a time by jamming the animals into tiny canisters and pumping concentrated cigarette smoke directly into their noses. The animals would then be killed and their bodies dissected.”
Belgium, Germany and the U.K. have banned animal testing for tobacco products and Canada uses non-animal methods.