China's Ministry of Science and Technology said yesterday it is to follow normal procedures in considering whether to give a top award to a study into cigarettes that has raised nationwide protests from both the public and experts.
A worker making Chinese-style cigarette
The research into a "Chinese-style cigarette" which focuses on adding fragrance and enhancing taste has been nominated for the annual National Science and Technology Progress Award.
The news of the application attracted a rash of complaints concerning promoting smoking and misleading the public.
More than 10 academicians, including Zhong Nanshan, a renowned medical whistleblower, have joined together to draft a public protest letter, The Beijing News reported yesterday.
And a science news portal, www.sciencenet.cn, has called for people to add their names to a list in protest about the China National Tobacco Corporation's application for the award. Around 120 people, mostly senior engineers and experts, had added their names as of 9am yesterday.
Several Chinese Academy of Engineering experts, including Qin Boyi, and Health Minister Chen Zhu have questioned the rationality and legitimacy of the award application, the website said.
Experts say the study directly violates China's regulations on science and technology progress and the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control because its application "greatly harms people's health and popularizes the tobacco industry," the website said.
But a spokesman for the Ministry of Science and Technology, Wu Yuanbin, said the tobacco industry was a legitimate industry and new research in the sector was to be praised if it could reduce the harm brought about by smoking, Xinhua news agency reported.
However, Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the tobacco control office under the Chinese Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, told Xinhua there was no medical evidence that the cigarettes that involve lower nicotine and tar do less harm to human health.
China has 300 million smokers, and more than 740 million non-smokers are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, according to estimates.
About 1.2 million people die of smoking-related illnesses in China each year, Xinhua said.