Critique smolders for honor to tobacco scientist

Updated: 2011-12-13 09:01

By An Baijie (China Daily)

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BEIJING - A scientist recently inducted into the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) is being criticized by a number of his peers, who said his research might cause more harm from tobacco.

Xie Jianping, 52, vice-president of the Zhengzhou Tobacco Research Institute of China National Tobacco Corp, was inducted into the academy on Dec 8 for his research since 2005 on tar reduction in filter cigarettes.

The honor met with public criticism on Sina weibo, the country's leading micro-blogging website.

Fang Zhouzi, an academic known for his opposition to "pseudoscience", said in his micro blog on Dec 9 that Xie's research misleads the public, and the only way to reduce harm from smoking is to quit.

"The international medical world is calling for the restriction of tobacco nowadays, however, China honored an academician who researches tobacco with the money from a tobacco company," Fang wrote in his micro blog. "It's like a joke."

According to Fang, Xie's research was conducted to help tobacco companies to promote so-called low-tar cigarettes, which Fang said are filled with harmful substances that could cause cancer.

Low-tar cigarette sales have soared in recent years in China, surging 37.2 percent annually from 2007 to 2010, compared with 3.3 percent growth in all cigarette sales.

The sales of low-tar cigarettes skyrocketed by more than 265 percent from January to September this year compared with the same period last year, according to data released by Tobacco China Online.

Yang Jie, deputy director of the National Tobacco Control Office, told China Daily on Monday that Xie's research is merely a way for tobacco companies to promote their products.

"More than 20 years ago, tobacco companies in the United States already knew that such research was invalid, but they did not tell the public the truth, and ultimately, the companies were convicted in court of cheating," Yang said.

China Daily could not reach Xie for comment on Monday.

However, Xie also received some support from the academic world.

Wei Fusheng, a CAE academician who voted for Xie's induction into the academy, said Xie's research has diminished harm to smokers.

"The Chinese have a long history of smoking, and a process is necessary to help smokers quit the unhealthy addiction," Wei said. "The tobacco industry is one of the main taxpayers, which is important for the country's development."

Cui Xiaobo, an expert on tobacco restriction at Capital Medical University, said the country's tax revenue could be guaranteed by raising tobacco prices and tobacco tax rates, rather than encouraging more people to smoke.

"It's ridiculous to promote tobacco sales by making low-tar cigarettes," Cui said.

Jin Huiyu contributed to this story.