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Newspaper: Tobacco Maker Refused to Market Non-Cancerous Cigarette

September 27, 1992 GMT

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) _ A tobacco company developed a cigarette more than 20 years ago that posed far less risk of causing cancerous tumors in test animals, then refused to market it, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Researchers for Liggett Group Inc., then called Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co., isolated the major, cancer-causing ingredient in tobacco smoke and rendered it harmless, said chemist James Mold, the company’s former director of research.

Liggett’s XA Project began in 1954 with the hope of reviving business. By the late 1970s, the Durham company had developed a safe cigarette, but it was never introduced, the News & Record of Greensboro reported.

″I think they were concerned that they’d have everybody suing them because they’d be admitting they had been making a hazardous cigarette,″ Mold told the newspaper. ″We have evidence that we reduced the tumor potency of this material in animal tests,″ he said. ″As to whether that could be transferred into human smoking, you certainly would hope that it would.″

Mold said the project didn’t determine ways to prevent other diseases linked to cigarette smoking, including emphysema and heart disease.

Mold, who is retired and lives in Durham, said he left the company in 1984 after trying without success to convince Liggett executives to publish the scientific evidence and market the cigarette.

The research was introduced as evidence in a lawsuit filed by the family of Rose Cipollone against Liggett and several other tobacco companies. The New Jersey woman smoked cigarettes for 42 years and died of lung cancer at 58.

A federal jury awarded her family $400,000 in 1988, the nation’s first monetary damage award against the tobacco industry. But the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial in the case.

The jury absolved Philip Morris Inc. and Lorillard Inc., which made other brands of cigarettes Mrs. Cipollone had smoked.

The Cipollone family’s attorneys pointed to the XA Project as proof that Liggett knew about the dangers of tobacco for more than 30 years, despite industry denials of any proven link between smoking and disease.

Liggett officials testified the new cigarette had a funny flavor and there was concern palladium would create its own health problems for smokers.

The company declined to comment on the XA Project because the Cipollone case in pending.

Liggett’s top scientist, the late F.R. Darkis, hired a Massachusetts research firm, Arthur D. Little Inc., to try to duplicate a study conducted at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York.

The study showed mice grew cancerous tumors when their backs were repeatedly daubed with a mixture that contained the residue of cigarette smoke.

At a March 1954 meeting, Darkis asked Arthur D. Little biologists to determine which brand of cigarettes was used in the study. He wanted to test the brand against Liggett’s top-selling brand, Chesterfield, to see if it could be shown that Chesterfield didn’t produce cancer in mice.

The researchers duplicated the experiments and found Chesterfield also caused cancer, the newspaper said. So Darkis launched the XA Project.

Mold’s first task was to break cigarette smoke into its most elemental components to isolate carcinogens.

In 1963, after eight years of work, Mold and his team pinpointed what they believed was the most cancer-causing component. They decided the most effective cancer shield was palladium, a heavy metal widely known as a catalyst in speeding up chemical reactions, the newspaper said.

The Liggett chemists found that when a small amount of palladium was added, it eliminated half the cigarette’s carcinogenic activity. They later learned that by mixing magnesium nitrate with palladium they could further boost the cancer block.

For 80 weeks, mice bred to be susceptible to cancer were coated with the XA Project tobacco. No cancers were detected, Mold said.