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Controversial tobacco research program left aside in science reward application

(Xinhua)

17:07, May 07, 2012

BEIJING, May 6 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese tobacco research program has been left aside in an application for a top science award in the country, following extensive controversy over its studies in manufacturing low-tar, less-harm cigarettes.

China Tobacco (China National Tobacco Corporation), which is affiliated to the State Tobacco Monopoly, had applied to have its research into supposedly less harmful cigarettes included on a list of initiatives up for the 2012 National Award for Science and Technology.

The application was open to appeals from March 23 to May 2.

During the past 40 days, however, Chinese health officials, scientists, non-governmental organizations, general public and the World Health Organization representative in China have voiced strong opposition to the application.

Health experts say China Tobacco's research -- which focuses on "Chinese-style" cigarettes -- misleads the public by claiming that the adding of Chinese herbs into cigarettes reduces their harm.

At least 33 letters of objection have been sent to the Ministry of Science and Technology, the organizer of the science reward.

The State Tobacco Monopoly then submitted an application to the ministry for quitting the reward application under the pressure.

Officials with the State Tobacco Monopoly have declined to comment, while a statement issued by the Ministry of Science and Technology on Friday only said the research program has met with opposition and the situation is "very complicated."

Meanwhile, officials with the Ministry of Health have told reporters that "the current result was the fruit of the joint efforts of everybody."

China has more than 300 million smokers, about 1.2 million people die from tobacco-related diseases every year in the country, and another 740 million are exposed to second-hand smoke, health experts say.

They add that China faces a particularly tough battle to prevent the interference in anti-smoking work of China Tobacco, with its lucrative tax contributions and status as a government agency.

Tobacco research projects have been honored seven times in the annual National Award for Science and Technology over the past decade, the Beijing News has reported.

The list of candidates for the 2012 award will be finalized late this year, and the winner announced in early 2013, after being judged by a panel of experts, according to rules of the Ministry of Science and Technology. <Last month, Fu Wei, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, told a press conference that the recognition of tobacco research would violate the spirit of the award, under which it is clearly stated that research considered should not be against the protection of public health.

"We oppose considering the research into so-called 'low-harm' cigarettes for the national science award," she said.

The attitude of the Ministry of Health is in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which makes a stand against all forms of promotion aimed at encouraging tobacco use, Fu added.

China signed to the FCTC in 2003 and it was enacted in 2006.

Yang Gonghuan, former deputy director of the tobacco control office at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the Ministry of Science and Technology should carry out a strict supervision over the applications for the science reward.

"The ministry should stipulate clearly that such a research program (as the 'Chinese-style' cigarettes) should not be included in the application list for the science reward," she said.

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