Certain popular Portuguese cigarette brands have been found to contain dialdrin, a banned carcinogenic pesticide. Investigator Maria Teresa Vasconcelos, from the Faculty of Sciences at Porto University, timed the release of the news to coincide with National No-Smoking day.
The report revealed that both SG Ventil and SG Filtro contain traces of the pesticide, which is prohibited in Europe and the United States. Aside from cancer, the pesticide, outlawed by the Stockholm Convention of 2001, can cause headaches, vomiting, irritability, involuntary muscular spasms and dizziness.
The chemical specialist analysed four of the most popular Portuguese brands. Other widely used brands included in the tests, SG Gigante and Português (formerly Português Suave), did not reveal the presence of dialdrin in either its tobacco or cigarette fumes.
The Health Directorate (Direcção-Geral de Saúde) said it would pay close attention to the revelations and would “analyse all the findings in order to undertake corrective measures”. Apart from cancer and other harmful side effects resulting from ingesting even small doses of the pesticide, experiments conducted on animals have identified the substance as being extremely toxic. It was also found to cause abnormal development of the foetus and interference with the nervous and hepatic systems.
The pesticide is listed as one of the 12 most persistent and polluting chemicals in the world. In 2001, about 100 governments, among them the Portuguese, met in Sweden and adopted an international treaty designed to restrict and eliminate the production, use and distribution of this and other pollutants. Even before that time, Portugal had already prohibited its use.
Rosa Bonacho, from the Association of Tobacco Producers (APT), said the organisation had always complied with the ban within national territory. “I can guarantee that we do not use this substance. And, if this is the case (that the contamination is proven), it is not the national tobacco producers here in Portugal who are responsible for this contamination,” she said.
Findings “extremely worrying”
In spite of suspicions about the presence of pesticides in tobacco, it was the first time in Portugal that a study has unequivocally revealed the presence of the contaminating pesticide in cigarettes. “It is extremely worrying,” said Pais Clemente, President of the Council for the Prevention of Smoking.
But he made it clear that the results of the survey did not surprise him. “Tobacco leaves come from all parts of the world and, in order to be conserved, they use pesticides. If there was ever any doubt about the harmful effects of tobacco, they have evaporated with this news. So, in a way, it is a major triumph for the prevention campaign,” he said.
A special hotline number has been set up in order to help worried consumers who are concerned about pesticides in the cigarettes most commonly sold in Portugal. The number is 800 210 310.