Experts urge academy to drop tobacco scientist

Updated: 2011-12-16 11:17


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BEIJING - Chinese health experts have called for one of the country's elite academies to revoke the membership of a tobacco scientist whose major research, they claim, had a negative impact on the nation's health.

Xie Jianping, an academic with a tobacco research institute for China National Tobacco Corporation (China Tobacco), has been the subject of controversy since he was honored with a seat in the elite Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) on December 8.

Xie's major research focuses on low-tar and herbal cigarettes, which it is claimed are less harmful than conventional tobacco products, according to the website of Xie's institute.

"Xie's research on low-tar cigarettes was disastrous to China's tobacco-control efforts. It was not a contribution to the nation," said Xu Guihua, deputy head of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, at a press briefing Thursday.

"I urge the CAE to revoke Xie's academic membership."

She said her association has submitted a formal letter to the CAE, urging a review of Xie's research and other related studies on low-tar cigarettes as well as the termination of state funding for research which aims to promote tobacco products.

"Low-tar has become known as a popular promotion tool of tobacco companies," said Yang Gonghuan, head of the China Tobacco Control Office under Chinese Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (China CDC). "There is no safe level of tobacco consumption. Smokers are more likely to inhale deeper when they consume low-tar cigarettes, and that actually increases the health risks."

Yang blamed the tobacco companies' low-tar promotion strategy for the 41.15 percent growth in cigarette sales in China from 2000 to 2010.

"It is a joke, just like honoring somebody with a top prize for researching medicines that can make humans immortal," said Ma Shaojun, a research fellow with ThinkTank Research Center, a non-governmental health group.

China is the world's largest cigarette consumer. The country has 300 million smokers, and more than 740 million non-smokers are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, according to experts' estimates. About 1.2 million people die of smoking-related illnesses in the country each year.

China is a signatory of the World Health Organization-initiated tobacco control treaty -- the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), but implementation is slow mainly due to sabotage from the powerful tobacco industry, health experts have said. The FCTC requires nations to ban deceptive and misleading descriptions such as "low tar," they said.

Both Xie and the research institute of China Tobacco Xie worked with refused to comment.