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Illinois House to hear testimony from R.J. Reynolds on 'tobacco harm-reduction' concept

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SPRINGFIELD-An Illinois House committee Thursday will hear testimony on 'tobacco harm-reduction,' a concept R.J. Reynolds Tobacco says will help smokers reduce health risks from cigarettes without actually quitting tobacco products.

Without pushing any actual legislation, R.J. Reynolds claims the purpose of the hearing is "for legislators to gather information to consider in further action - specifically, to study opportunities to reduce the risk of death and disease among Illinois smokers who will not quit smoking."

Richard Smith, an R.J. Reynolds spokesperson, said the tobacco company is not looking to benefit from the idea but rather to disperse accurate information and encourage state legislatures to consider promoting alternative, less harmful forms of tobacco.

"R.J. Reynolds is in favor of [the idea] not as a marketing perspective at all, but rather we believe in it as a concept," Smith said. "We're not talking about any brand here. We do not need anyone to do our marketing for us, especially not a government.

"Nicotine is addictive. That's no secret. The combustion form of cigarette smoke is addictive. That's no secret. But what many are unaware of is that noncombustible tobacco products generally present less risk."

But the American Cancer Society, which will also testify at Thursday's hearing, claims the tobacco company's harm-reduction message was false in the past and remains false today.

"This is the latest effort by the tobacco industry to confuse and mislead the public about the dangers and addictive nature of tobacco products," the group said in a prepared statement. "This is a new twist on the old tobacco marketing campaigns of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that falsely promised health benefits to be derived from filtered, "light", and "less tar" tobacco product alternatives."

Smith admitted there is no safe form of tobacco but said R.J. Reynolds - which manufactures Camel 'Snus' smokeless tobacco - is committed to the concept because "it's the right thing to do."

"The bottom line is, we believe that adult smokers have a right to information about different tobacco products," Smith said. "That information should be based on sound science. That's really what this is about."

The American Cancer Society isn't convinced.

"So long as tobacco products continue to be responsible for nearly one out of every five deaths in America today, tobacco product manufacturers cannot pose as being the solution," it said in a prepared statement. "The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] - not tobacco companies - should remain the final arbiter of what tobacco cessation therapies are proven to be truly safe and effective."

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