Silence On Pesticide In Cigarettes
The Age Monday November 3, 2003
An Australian cigarette company knew for more than 20 years that its tobacco contained high levels of DDT and other dangerous pesticides, industry documents reveal.
The Federal Government was also aware that pesticide levels far exceeded those in British and US samples, but disregarded a recommendation by its own agency to set limits for chemicals in tobacco.
Instead, it abandoned its only test on cigarettes for tar and nicotine levels and left the industry to regulate itself. The Government also rejected consumer calls for disclosure of all cigarette ingredients, similar to food label requirements.
Tobacco samples tested for Philip Morris Australia in 1978 showed DDT levels 40 times higher than German limits, its internal documents say. As late as the early 1990s, the company’s testing found residue of DDT, dichloran and maleic hydrazide – all forms of pesticides – above German or US limits, according to Simon Chapman, of Sydney University’s School of Public Health. But the company issued no health warnings or product recalls, he said.
Professor Chapman has been searching for Australian references in the 7 million tobacco industry documents posted on the internet after a 1998 US court case. His latest findings will appear in the Tobacco Control Journal.
Asked about the present use of pesticides, Philip Morris spokesman Colin Lippiatt said it had guidelines about the “judicious use” of crop protection agents on imported tobacco.
In 1981, a report by the National Health and Medical Research Council warned that pesticide residues exceeding those in overseas cigarettes were “likely to increase the known adverse effects of inhaling tobacco smoke” and ordered an investigation. It never took place.
In 1985, the Department of Primary Industry recommended that the government set upper limits for the agricultural chemical content of tobacco. But the government set no restrictions on cigarette ingredients, and they are not regulated.
Instead, the government and the industry agreed to voluntary disclosure of some of the ingredients in a cigarette, but not the residues in the tobacco and the chemicals in the smoke.
But European producers have had to disclose all ingredients, justify their use and explain their health impacts since January. Disclosure is also required in parts of Canada and in Thailand.
A Health Department spokesman said it had extended the scheme until December next year, but was “considering options for future disclosure requirements”.
A co-director of the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control, Ron Borland, said many of the ingredients Australian consumers were not told of might be harmful.
“We now have cigarettes that taste better, are smoother and less harsh to smoke and would be described by the tobacco industry as higher quality. It is now easier to smoke something that kills half its long-term users,” he said.
But Dr Borland said the harmful effects of tobacco itself were of most