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CDC Says Smoking in General, Not Recalled Cigarettes, Caused Illnesses

March 29, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Traces of contaminants that tainted the 8 billion cigarettes recalled last year by Philip Morris did not make people any sicker than any other cigarettes would, federal health investigators said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated more than 70 complaints from people in 27 states who complained of eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, coughing and wheezing. The recall involved the popular Marlboro and Virginia Slims brands, among others.

``The bottom line was that there was no consistent pattern of illness that we could identify,″ Michael Ericksen, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said Thursday.

The recalled cigarettes contained traces of a chemical used in making pesticides but it also was found in cigarettes manufactured before and after the recall, the CDC found.

That doesn’t mean the cigarettes were harmless, the CDC said. Its report said smoking is directly responsible for the premature deaths of more than 400,000 Americans each year.

``The single greatest cause of death in this country is lighting organic material and sucking it into your lungs,″ Ericksen said.

``This episode could be characterized as misplaced concern on behalf of Philip Morris _ that they acted on a quality control issue that they were concerned about, but failed to act on the obvious health problems associated with smoking,″ he said.

Philip Morris, the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturer, recalled the cigarettes in May because they smelled and tasted bad and because it discovered traces of methyl isothiocyanate in the filters.

The company determined there wasn’t enough of the chemical in the cigarettes to be harmful, said Philip Morris spokeswoman Karen Daragan.

The CDC also found methyl isothiocyanate in the recalled cigarettes. But researchers also found it the chemical in Philip Morris cigarettes manufactured after the recall and up to a year before the recall. It also was found in cigarettes from other manufacturers.

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