You may have heard the claim that some “cigarettes contain pig’s blood”*. While I’ve heard this claim numerous times, not being a smoker I have I never bothered to look into it until more recently. The primary source of this story was a 2010 media release quoting University of Sydney Professor in Public Health Simon Chapman,
“Many devout Islamic and Jewish smokers and some vegetarians would be horrified to think they were putting a filter in their mouth which contained a pig product.”
Professor Chapman was not the only who raised the alarm. Mohammad Reza Madani, an official from the Iranian Society for Fighting Smoking, spoke out calling it a zionist conspiracy and papers through out the Muslim world reprinted the story. What is being vaguely implicated is the use of the blood protein hemoglobin, in this case derived from a pig, in some cigarette filters. Unfortunately most iterations of this new story were light on facts, leading many to be confused about how widespread this issue actually is. Of course, that may very well have been Professor Chapman’s intent.
The issue came to light largely due to the publication of PIG 05049 by Dutch artist Christien Meindertsma. The work details the many and varied end uses for a single pig, pig number 05049, as its parts are shipped around the world. Among a number of items including medicine, photo paper, brakes, chewing gum, porcelain, & cosmetics, cigarette filters are mentioned. This filter, The Bio-Filter (marketed as Choice filter in the US & Canada), was designed to reduce some gaseous carcinogens and be safer (though this is doubtful 1, 2, 3). This filter, created by Greek researchers, gained some popularity due to advertisements that it was healthier, though it never came to dominate the market. Its market status now is difficult to ascertain but it does not appear to be in widespread use. In the end it makes a sensational headline but is a non-issue relative to the many legitimate concerns surrounding tobacco and the tobacco industry. I find Professor Chapman’s expressed concern for vegetarians a bit disingenuous, as a dedicated anti-tobacco activist Chapman appears more concerned with advancing his cause than protecting others ethical sensibilities.
While the bio-filter may have been a well meaning (though potentially counterproductive) attempt to reduce the harmful effects of smoking, there are other companies who appear a bit more cynical. Take for example the bio-card, this device which looks like a typical credit card is meant to be slipped into a pack a cigarettes where it will use its “13 macromolecular composite technology” to “reduce more than 60% harmful substance in cigarette”. The vague mechanism and accompanying “evidence” for this products is laughable and hardly needs pointing out how ridiculous it is. Scam harm reduction and smoking cessation aids and claims abound and only serve to confuse the public. Tobacco is a serious public health issue intertwined with issues of personal liberty, there are no easy answers and relying on top-down regulation isn’t sufficient, the public must become informed so as to make the best decisions for themselves and society.
There is no doubt in my mind that not smoking is the safer choice, but as long as there is the desire to smoke and availability of tobacco products, people need accurate information on which to make informed choices. I don’t wish to encourage anyone to smoke cigarettes, but I also do not want to stand by misinformation even when it serves my desires. Nor do I wish people to be fooled into a “safer” way of smoking when the evidence for benefit is lacking. For those looking for science-base information tobacco and smoking cessation please visit the CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco Use page. For those who already smoke but are not yet ready to quit, you may wish to explore harm reduction, there are some options available that could improve your quality of life.
*This is not the only animal product claimed to be in some cigarettes.