GM cigarette boasts no nicotine

by JAMES CHAPMAN, Daily Mail

A genetically modified cigarette which is virtually nicotine-free is likely to be on sale in the UK within a year.

Smokers report that it tastes like conventional products, according to the American firm behind the technology.

It claims the cigarette will provide a non-addictive alternative and could help millions kick the habit.

But experts warned that the nictine-free product would still be damaging to health, while anti-GM campaigners warned that it would lead to widespread cultivation of GM tobacco, with devastating implications for the environment.

Anti-smoking charities also warned that coming up with 'less harmful' cigarettes could well encourage and not reduce smoking.

Vector Group, the Miami-based tobacco firm which has developed the cigarette, said it had genetically modified tobacco seed to produce a virtually nicotine-free leaf.

'We are very encouraged by this development,' said Bennett LeBow. 'We believe that a virtually nicotine-free tobacco could provide a non-addictive alternative and make smoking a matter of choice.'

The new cigarettes would be on US store shelves within months and then exported around the world, including the UK, the company said.

Smokers wanting to give up could switch to the non-addictive product and wean themselves off the habit.

Vector says the absence of nicotine also prevents the formation of cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke called nitrosamines.

But Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking ASH, said the new cigarettes, would still be damaging to health since there were thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke, ranging from hydrogen cyanide to formaldehyde.

He added: 'There is a behavioural component to cigarette addiction - just having something in your hands - which they may address.

'But it is physical and psychological dependence on nictotine that is the main cause. Smokers will not want these cigarettes because there will no nicotine 'hit'.

'It's the equivalent of alchol-free beer and is likely to be about as popular. Nicotine-replacement techniques such as patches and gum are proven to be an effective way of stopping smoking.'

Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, warned that producing the cigarettes would mean GM tobacco being grown over a 'huge area' to meet demand.

'The launch of the GM cigarette illustrates the worrying speed at which the biotech industry is trying to get its products on the sheves.

'The whole idea of tinkering around with the genetic structure of plants has been justified on the basis that it would enable us to feed the Third World with crops engineered to be resistant to drought and disease.'

Vector refused to give details of the exact genetic changes made to its tobacco plants, citing commercial sensitivity.

There is likely to be pressure from non-GM tobacco growers to ensure that Vector's variety is kept separate from conventional breeds.

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