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Low Levels In Big Tobacco

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. says it soon will begin making cigarettes with reduced compounds some scientists believe contribute to smoking-related cancer risks.

The company won't make any health claims about them.

RJR, the nation's second-largest cigarette maker, said Thursday its new processing method, using heat exchangers instead of direct-fire burners in tobacco barns, can reduce nitrosamine levels more than 90 percent in flue-cured tobacco.

The company is recruiting U.S. flue-cured tobacco growers to provide the low-nitrosamine leaf and will help pay the cost of converting bulk barns to accommodate heat exchanges, RJR said. The low-nitrosamine blends will be used in cigarettes "a soon as practical," the company said in a news statement.

Earlier this year, it was reported Louisville, Ky.-based Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. also was developing a cigarette made from tobacco with lower levels of nitrosamines, also known as TSNAs.

Gary Burger, RJR's senior vice president of research and development, said nitrosamines have been identified as carcinogens when examined separately in high doses in some animal experiments.

As a result, "RJRT's product-stewardship philosophy dictates that we switch to low TSNA flue-cured tobacco in our cigarette blends as soon as we feasibly can," Burger said.

He said the company will not make any claims that low-nitrosamine cigarettes are safer when it begins using it in all its brands, which include Camel and Winston.

"There is no scientific basis at this time to conclude that reducing nitrosamines or any other single class of compounds will reduce the risks associated with smoking," he said. "With the scientific information that is available, not making health claims about low-nitrosamine tobacco is the responsible approach."

RJR confirmed in "real-world conditions" earlier laboratory findings that TSNAs are formed when combustion products of direct-fire curing interact with compounds in the green tobacco leaf, the company said.

The Winston-Salem-based company said it is researching ways to reduce nitrosamines in burley tobacco and has shared its findings with competitors, leaf suppliers, growers association and the academic community.