China Tobacco, the world's largest tobacco grower, has applied to have its research into cigarettes it says are less harmful considered for the honor, Xinhua reported Sunday. The Ministry of Science and Technology is considering whether the application merits consideration, the state-run news agency said.
The list of candidates will be finalized late this year with a winner announced early in 2013. Judging is conducted by panel of experts.
Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the tobacco control office at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said told Xinhua there is no medical evidence supporting the contention so-called Chinese-style cigarettes, with lower nicotine and tar, are less harmful.
"Chinese people have the misunderstanding that low nicotine and tar content will be better for health," Jiang said.
Jiang said the Chinese cigarette maker's goal is to come up with additives that improve cigarettes' taste in order to promote consumption.
China has more than 300 million smokers and a reported 1.2 million people die of tobacco-related diseases each year, Xinhua said.
"The application by the candidate in itself is an offense to the law," Jiang said. "The government should come out with laws to control tobacco."
Science and Technology Ministry spokesman Wu Yuanbin told the Beijing Times the application by China Tobacco is in its early stages.
"Every year, the national scientific awards will be finally chosen through a year's efforts including recommendation, examination and public notice," he said.
Wu said tobacco is a legitimate industry and new research is worthwhile if it can reduce the negative health effects of smoking.
But Suo Chao of the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control said China Tobacco has not yet submitted data on its cigarette additives in the cigarettes for examination and approval by the Ministry of Health and Yang Gonghuan, former deputy director of the center for disease control, called alleged progress toward producing a less harmful cigarette a fraud.
"The marketing strategy has made the tobacco industry's output grow by 40 percent in the last 10 years," Yang said. "The tobacco industry becomes the largest money machine at the sacrifice of human beings' lives."