The Tobacco Manufacturers Association (TMA) has mounted a campaign to undermine proposed European regulations that would make it compulsory for British firms to produce a form of cigarette which saves lives.
According to Canadian scientists, "reduced ignition propensity cigarettes" can cut cigarette-related fire deaths by 68 percent. And the cigarettes, which burn out faster than ordinary ones if not inhaled, have been considered a success since they were introduced in the US two years ago.
But the European tobacco lobby believes the switch to the new cigarettes will prove expensive.
Documents show how the TMA is rubbishing the scientific claims made for the new cigarettes. At a meeting on Oct. 5 with government ministers, the TMA delivered a briefing designed to refute the arguments made for the new kind of cigarette.
The document has also been presented to EU officials who are meeting to discuss the issue this week. Anti-smoking groups are concerned that a number of EU member states will be influenced by the tobacco lobby and will reject the plans.
"The UK tobacco industry's behavior on this issue is despicable," said Deborah Arnott, director of the anti-tobacco campaigning organization Action on Smoking and Health.
"Tobacco industry documents show that the technology has been around for at least 20 years to reduce the fires caused by cigarettes. All it requires is simple design changes which could already have saved thousands of lives. Yet the industry is still trying to argue that the time is not right and to push for yet more delay. Why? Because it's worried introducing the standards might hit profits," she said.
Documents intended only for ministers and civil servants detail what the TMA claims are flaws in the scientific tests conducted on the new cigarettes -- which involve placing a lit cigarette on several pieces of filter or fabric to determine how quickly they are ignited.
The TMA's document quotes selectively from the a study revealing the advantages of the new cigarettes to argue that they may not reduce the risk of fires in real situations.