Monday, April 4, 2011

Pig's blood, tobacco control and mass media

Pigs play an important role in the western culture, mostly as guests of honor in many meals. A less known role of pigs, or, to be precise, of pigs' blood (‘porcine haemoglobin’) is as part of what is called ‘biofilter’ in certain cigarette brands. Developed by Greek researchers, said 'biofilter' is supposed to make cigarette smoking healthier (it doesn't).

"Filters (so called “bio-filters”) with antioxidant compounds impregnated in active carbon canaffect only marginally the composition and toxicity of solid and gaseous phases of cigarette smoke."

Marketed as healthier, the BF helped the cigarette company SEKAP to become the second largest Greek cigarette manufacturer, with the BF cigarettes capturing 6% of the Greek market the month after they were launched. The company also export their cigarettes to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. By the time healthier smoking claims were outlawed by the Greek government, in 2002, the product already acquired a 'healthy' image.

An Australian organization decided, as part of a tobacco control project (funded by the cancer institute of New South Wales) to alert the media, through press releases, to several tobacco-related issues. They issued a press release in March 2010 ("New book on pig products reveals problems for Islamic, Jewish and vegetarian smokers"). It is important to note that at least in Australia, tobacco companies aren't obligated to reveal their cigarettes' ingredients.

As part of the research, the authors studied the coverage of the press release online. The story was covered all over the globe, including by the Daily Mail, the Calcutta News and even by The Colbert Report. The less thrilling part was that no media, except for an Israeli TV channel and a group of journalists one of the authors encountered during a visit to Indonesia, contacted the authors. They all based their coverage on a newswire (AAP) media release.

The pig blood's news created confusing, and author Simon Chapman received emails, mainly from Muslims, who wanted to know which cigarette brands were 'safe'. The the South African National Halaal Association issued an anti-smoking leaflet (fig. 1). The Iranians blamed 'the Zionists' for the 'tainted cigarettes'. Cigarette companies such as Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris were quick to publish denials.

Overall, the authors consider 'unorthodox' framing was considered a success in alerting the public to the secretive nature of the tobacco companies and the lack of regulation on tobacco products. I think that for Orthodox Jews and Muslims it is another reason to stop smoking: I mean, dying of lung cancer and going to hell?!

Mackenzie R, & Chapman S (2011). Pig's blood in cigarette filters: how a single news release highlighted tobacco industry concealment of cigarette ingredients. Tobacco control, 20 (2), 169-72 PMID: 2117285

Valavanidis, A., Vlachogianni, T., & Fiotakis, K. (2009). Tobacco Smoke: Involvement of Reactive Oxygen Species and Stable Free Radicals in Mechanisms of Oxidative Damage, Carcinogenesis and Synergistic Effects with Other Respirable Particles International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6 (2), 445-462 DOI: 10.3390/ijerph6020445

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