Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Experts scorn transgenic smokes

CLAIM WITHDRAWN An Academia Sinica fellow asks the public not to block biotech developments, but admits there's no proof transgenic tobacco could help smokers

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

Claims that cigarettes made from transgenic tobacco could be effective in fighting lung cancer were withdrawn yesterday as Academia Sinica retracted its previous statements under pressure from the medical community.

"There is no such thing as a healthy cigarette. While smoking does not necessarily result in lung cancer, it will affect about 80 percent of smokers. There is a general consensus on this point," National Taiwan University Hospital intern-al medicine chief Yang Pan-chyr (楊泮池) said yesterday in response to recent Academia Sinica research results.

"We know that cigarettes can lead to numerous diseases, not just lung cancer. Even if cigarettes could fight lung cancer, it would still lead to other conditions. There are around 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes, so how do you break [health effects] down?" said Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川), CEO of the John Tung Foundation, an anti-smoking group.

Chen Hueih-min (陳惠民), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of Bioagricultural Science, had said on Tuesday that a synthetic cationic peptide extracted from silk moths, cecropin B or CB1b, could be used as a model in designing other cancer-fighting agents. Chen had previously said that gene transfer could be performed on certain plants, including tobacco and tomatoes, theoretically allowing cigarettes to be effective in fighting lung cancer.

Chen had said that tobacco could possibly serve as a "factory" for the cost-effective production of the peptide.

However, Yeh pointed out that there was no scientific evidence that transgenic tobacco could be effective in fighting cancer.

"Let scientific evidence speak. If it is really possible that cigarettes could fight cancer, then people need to know. But, so far, there is no proof of that," Yeh said.

"We will pay attention to societal responses in the future. If developing transgenic tobacco will cause societal turmoil, then we will take that into consideration," Chen said. He also asked the public not to the stand in the way of biotechnological developments.

The applications of Chen's peptide will be difficult to predict, with companies possibly using the peptide to develop cancer-fighting transgenic tobacco.

"We are applying for a patent now, and afterward the peptide could see different applications. We as patent-holders probably have some say as to the applications and could block private companies from developing `healthy' cigarettes,'" Chen said.

Meanwhile, Consumers' Foundation president Tsai Chai-pen (蔡再本) criticized Chen, calling his announcement irresponsible and a step backward for consumer rights.

"If this [Chen's report] had been issued by any other agency, I would not have paid any attention. However, these claims were issued by the Academia Sinica," Tsai said.

"This could be used as a new excuse for smoking, but what about those who have to deal with second-hand smoke? Those who don't smoke should not be subjected to smoke in public areas," Tsai said.

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