WASHINGTON — Chemicals added to cigarettes can cause liver damage and convulsions in animals, a radio network reported Friday, adding to the furor over regulation of tobacco.
But some experts say the uproar over a top-secret list of additives is overblown because scientists have known for 30 years of dozens of toxic ingredients in cigarette smoke and tobacco itself that probably far outweigh the danger from any added chemicals.
"Anybody who doesn't know that cigarettes are a health hazard has been living in a cave for the last 30 years," said Victor Zonana, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The list is but one issue in the battle over tobacco. The Food and Drug Administration is considering naming nicotine a drug, which would force it to ban most cigarettes.
Also in question is a federal law that makes companies tell the government the more than 700 additives that go into cigarettes, but which must be kept secret under penalty of imprisonment.
National Public Radio on Friday made public 13 chemicals that it said were from that top-secret list.
The government has designated some of the chemicals, in certain forms, as hazardous. All chlorofluorocarbons, which can damage the ozone layer, are prohibited in foods, for example. And NPR's list showed Freon, a CFC, is added to cigarettes.
NPR quoted an independent toxicologist who said two of the chemicals, ethyl 2-furoate and sclareol, cause liver damage and convulsions in laboratory animals. Ethyl 2-furoate was also discussed as a possible chemical warfare agent in the 1930s, said Dr. Barry Rumack of the University of Colorado.
But the list is too vague to know whether or how toxic any of the chemicals are in cigarettes, toxicologists said.
Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Friday that within weeks he will introduce legislation to make the list of additives public.