The Alliance of Boulder County
on Tobacco and Health

Genetically Modified Tobacco Plants yield Nicotine-free Cigarettes

July 30, 2001

Beginning this fall, Vector Tobacco plans to market Omni, a reduced carcinogen cigarette. Vector spokesman, Paul Caminiti, says early next year, the company Vector plans to introduce the first genetically modified tobacco that the company says produces no nicotine.

The genetically modified tobacco plant was developed by Vector with the help of Dr. Mark Conkling, former North Carolina State molecular biologist and researcher, who now works for Vector.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Dr. Conkling identified the gene that produces nicotine in the tobacco plant's roots. He succeeded in shutting down the nicotine gene and blocking formation of the nicotine, the company says, without effecting the viability of the plant or the taste of the cigarette.

However, the premier tobacco growing state, North Carolina, has so far shunned genetically modified tobacco. "A lot of companies like Philip Morris are rejecting buying genetically modified tobacco, afraid if it gets into the chain with other tobacco, not genetically modified, it could ruin the tobacco industry, what's left of it now," says Charlie Zink of the Farm Service Agency office in Madison County, North Carolina.

A plant in Roxboro, North Carolina, is being refurbished to produce the "Omni Nicotine Free" brand. Vector chose separate production facilities to segregate the no-nic tobacco from the traditional variety.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set guidelines for growing genetically modified tobacco that require a buffer zone of more than 1,000 feet between the genetically modified variety and traditional tobacco. Flowers must be removed from the GM tobacco to avoid cross-pollination in the field with non-GM tobacco.

Vector is finding it easier to grow tobacco than to develop a cure for tobacco addiction. The company intends to eventually submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, the Omni Nicotine Free brand as what the company is calling a "market cessation device."

"A new cigarette doesn't need to go through the FDA, but a nicotine patch does," says Caminiti.

From: Environmental News Network

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