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CDC Finds No Problems With Recalled Philip Morris Cigarettes


May 1996

A preliminary investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta found no health problems caused by cigarettes recalled by Philip Morris in June and July of 1995 and no difference in the chemical content of cigarettes manufactured before, during, and after the suspected contamination (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Recall of Philip Morris Cigarettes," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 45, no. 12, p. 251).

Philip Morris announced on May 26, 1995 that it was recalling 36 cigarette brands manufactured between May 12 and May 22 because "unusual tastes and peculiar odors" were found in the production line. On testing, the company found traces of methyl isothiocyanate (MITC) in cigarette filters. The compound is used in making paperboard for cigarette hard packs and is sometimes used as a pesticide.

The CDC first analyzed calls to the CDC complaining of health problems during the recall period. They logged 72 calls from people who reported health problems from smoking Philip Morris brand cigarettes (36 men and 36 women). There appeared to be no common set of symptoms (85% reported a respiratory problem, 25% headache, 21% dizziness, and 21% difficulty or interruption in sight).

The people reporting health problems had been smoking an average of 23 cigarettes per day for about 20 years. 60% smoked Marlboro brand cigarettes. CDC concluded that the reported health problems were caused by the effects of prolonged cigarette smoking or some factor other than contaminated cigarettes.

An analysis of cigarettes provided by Philip Morris from before, during, and after the suspected contamination found no difference in the presence or levels of chemical compounds. MITC was found in all of the samples. Tests for eight other possible contaminants revealed no difference among the samples.

[Issues of MMWR can be downloaded from the CDC World Wide Web site and viewed with Adobe Acrobat (which can also be downloaded free from the CDC Web site). Go to and search for "Philip Morris" with the search utility at the index. If you do not have access to the World Wide Web, contact the NewsBriefs office for a copy.]