Silver Spring, Maryland, USA | Bettina Krause / ANN

Claims that a new brand of cigarette has a lower risk of smoking-associated cancer have drawn criticism from Dr. DeWitt Williams, health spokesperson for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds launched the Eclipse cigarette last week as a “healthier” alternative to other tobacco products, claiming that smokers of the lower-smoke cigarette will have a reduced chance of developing lung and esophageal tumors.

“It’s unconscionable to market a cigarette as ‘healthy,’” says Williams. “Not only do these claims remain untested over time, but such marketing hype lulls people into a false sense of security. Tobacco is an addictive, cancer-producing drug and any product that contains tobacco can never, by any stretch of the imagination, be called ‘healthy.’”

Although R.J. Reynolds says that its claims are backed by scientific studies on cells, tissue, rats and hamsters, Williams points out that the tobacco company initiated, funded and had ultimate oversight over the scientific investigations.

The launch of the Eclipse cigarette comes at a time when tobacco companies in the United States are increasingly under fire in the courts and are facing large compensation payouts to both individual plaintiffs and state governments.

“It’s time to get our priorities in order,” says Williams, who says that the personal misery caused by smoking-related illness and death around the world should outweigh the economic interests of large tobacco companies. “This product gives smokers one less reason to get serious about quitting,” Williams adds. “It’s an attempt to make smokers more ‘comfortable’ about their habit.”

R.J. Reynolds’ marketing campaign tells consumers that, “The best choice for smokers who worry about their health is to quit. But Eclipse is the next best choice for those who have decided to continue smoking.”

Donna Shalala, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, has expressed “significant concerns” about the claims being made by R.J. Reynolds, saying that “what we do know is that cigarettes and other tobacco products in any form are unsafe, dangerous, and cause great pain, suffering and death.”