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CDC: Clove Cigarettes May Be Dangerous

May 31, 1985

ATLANTA (AP) _ Government scientists say they’re worried that clove cigarettes may cause severe respiratory illness, but an industry group labeled as ″misconceptions and speculations″ suggestions that the increasingly popular smokes are dangerous.

″There is enough information that we are very concerned clove cigarettes may cause acute illness in some people,″ said Dr. Sue Binder, a researcher with the Centers for Disease Control.

However, there is no conclusive proof at the present time that clove cigarettes are more dangerous than plain cigarettes, Ms. Binder cautioned.

The CDC said it has received reports of 12 people with severe respiratory illness ″possibly associated″ with smoking clove cigarettes, which contain the fragrant spice in addition to tobacco.

Symptoms included coughing up blood, spasmodic lung contractions and fluid in the lungs, sometimes within hours after smoking the cigarettes, the CDC said. Milder symptoms include nausea, angina, respiratory infections and chronic cough.

A newly formed industry group quickly responded to the CDC report.

″Today’s report ... clearly reinforces our position that there is no verifiable evidence to directly link the smoking of clove cigarettes with any acute respiratory complications,″ the Specialty Tobacco Council said Thursday in a statement.

″There is no scientific or medical proof to support the widely reported and still unsubstantiated misconceptions and speculations that clove cigarettes are the cause″ of reported illnesses, the council said.

Eugenol, the major active ingredient in cloves, has been used as a dental anesthetic for years, but there is not yet sufficient evidence to determine what health effects may be associated with it, Ms. Binder said.

The CDC report cited two cases of California men who came down with serious respiratory illnesses the day after smoking clove cigarettes. ″If eugenol is a direct irritant, yes, you would expect to see the effects pretty quickly,″ the CDC researcher said.

Both men had smoked clove cigarettes before, leading scientists to speculate that some effects may build up until smokers become ″more sensitive,″ she added.

″It’s hard to say since we know so little,″ she said. ″This is all postulation.″

But at best, smokers of clove cigarettes, which are more than 60 percent tobacco, are at risk of the same chronic ailments as other cigarette smokers, including lung cancer and heart disease, Ms. Binder said.

″We’re looking for any dangers greater than normal American cigarettes,″ she said. ″We’re concerned that clove cigarettes deliver more tar and nicotine... They may be smoked differently because people deeply inhale.″

There are ″real significant health effects from just tobacco,″ she added. ″Whether there are adverse health effects associated with the cloves is the question we haven’t answered.″

Clove cigarettes have been imported into the United States from Indonesia since 1968. Sales increased from 12 million in 1980 to 150 million four years later, and most purchasers are between 17 and 30 years old, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

New Mexico outlawed the sale of clove cigarettes last month; lawmakers in Michigan have introduced similar legislation.

The industry group, formed this week in Los Angeles representing two Indonesian clove cigarette manufacturers and six U.S. importers, said such legislation ″deprives people of the freedom of choice″ with no scientific evidence for doing so.

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