Cigarette maker denies danger in faulty filters

NEW YORK (AP) Tainted Philip Morris cigarettes that prompted a recall couldn't have made smokers sick but were only smelly and bad-tasting, the company said Tuesday in a retreat from prior health warnings.

The nation's leading cigarette maker said it earlier misidentified the cause of the problem and found that the true contaminants eight compounds in the filters posed no health risks.

The May 26 recall was justified because the 8 billion tainted cigarettes ''had a taste and odor problem'' and because Philip Morris could not be certain that some bad cigarettes had not reached the public, the company said in a news release.

''What this means for consumers is that we've completed our investigation and we're in a position to tell them there's no safety or health issue involved and they should be assured,'' said Steve Parrish, Philip Morris senior vice president for corporate affairs.

Federal authorities, however, are continuing investigations into reports that dozens of smokers were made ill by the tainted cigarettes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Parrish said the recall, which involved the company's popular Marlboro, Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims brands, among others, had been completed.

At the time of the recall, Philip Morris said contaminants in a supplier's plasticizer a material used to strengthen filters was creating methyl isothiocyanate, or MITC.

''Continued use of the affected product could result in temporary discomfort, including eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, coughing and wheezing,'' Philip Morris said at the time.

The company's investigation, however, found that MITC wasn't the culprit.

Philip Morris found the bad odor and taste was caused by compounds that did not belong in a batch of plasticizer produced by Hoechst Celanese, a Somerville, N.J., subsidiary of Germany's Hoechst chemical company.

''None of the extraneous compounds at the detected levels, individually or collectively, present safety risks to consumers or manufacturing employees at either company,'' said a statement Tuesday from Hoechst Celanese.

At least one of the contaminants, butyric acid, was created when one of the raw materials used in making plasticizer degraded during a recent plant shutdown, Hoechst Celanese said.

Parrish noted that Philip Morris was no longer using Hoechst Celenese as a supplier of plasticizer.

Although MITC was found in filters, it was in such small amounts that it wouldn't cause sickness, Parrish said.

The company said the MITC in filters came not from the contaminants but from packaging specifically from a natural decomposition of an FDA-approved preservative called thione.

The company that supplied the packaging, Westvaco Corp., is discontinuing use of thione to soothe ''lingering concerns,'' spokesman Bill Fuller said.

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