Muslims have been told to quit smoking because “cigarette filters may contain pig extracts and alcohol”, says a leading South African halaal authority.
But the tobacco industry has refuted the claims, with one manufacturer saying the information was “irresponsible and reckless”.
This week the South African National Halaal Association (Sanha) – one of four agencies in the country tasked with ensuring products meet Muslim regulations – made this claim in a leaflet posted at mosques.
It also loaded the claim on its website and distributed it via its subscriber mailing lists.
It is, however, unclear whether any cigarettes in South Africa do use the pig haemoglobin filters.
The leaflet stated that: “Muslim Jurists have for a long time condemned cigarette smoking. In addition, the use of pig haemoglobin, cognac and rum (wines) in its manufacture has also been confirmed.”
Muslims are prohibited from consuming pork and alcohol products.
After an Islamic website saw the leaflet it urged Muslim-owned businesses to stop selling cigarettes.
Sanha public relations officer EBI Lockhat said the organisation made the call based on research and information it had gleaned from South Africa’s National Council Against Smoking, the University of Sydney in Australia, and several internet news reports, as well as the website of a US-based tobacco company listing the ingredients.
The controversy dates back to 2008 when an internationally award-winning design project by Dutch artist Christien Meinderstma triggered fierce debate.
Titled Pig 05049, the project catalogued 187 different uses to which the carcass of a single pig (identified by the number 05049) was put.
Included in the list was haemoglobin for the manufacture of cigarette filters.
The issue grew into an international scandal last month when a public health professor at the University of Sydney, Simon Chapman, endorsed and gave wide publicity to Meinderstma’s findings.
Executive director of the National Council Against Smoking Yusuf Saloojee said NCAS had conducted its own research and concluded that some cigarette filters may contain pig blood.
“It is claimed that adding blood to the filter helps remove some of the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke,” Saloojee said.
The only clear reference the Cape Argus was able to find to haemoglobin filters was in connection with clove-flavoured cigarettes popular in Indonesia and Malaysia, but not marketed in South Africa.
South Africa’s largest cigarette manufacturer, British American Tobacco SA (Batsa), denied using haemoglobin filters.
“We find this type of communication irresponsible and reckless and an attempt to mislead consumers,” said Batsa spokeswoman Itumeleng Langeni.
She suggested that consumers check the Batsa website for information about what is contained in their brand, and insisted that the company employs a panel of international scientists to monitor, test and approve all ingredients.
Japan Tobacco International (JTI) likewise denied the use of pig’s blood in its cigarettes.
“JTI does not add pig or any other haemoglobin to any of the products we sell,” said corporate affairs manager Elaine McKay.
Phillip Morris SA told the Cape Argus that neither pig’s blood nor alcohol were added to any of the company’s products in South Africa.
The website of the Phillip Morris parent company in the US listed alcohol as an ingredient in some of its brands.
The company’s head of corporate affairs, Neetesh Ramjee, said the South African brands were manufactured locally.
The Tobacco Institute of South Africa, which represents 95 percent of the country’s tobacco industry, also refuted the allegations.
Chief executive Francois van der Merwe assured smokers that “none of the cigarettes manufactured by our members contain any (pig or wine) extracts”.
“In light of the complete inaccuracy of this allegation, we are disappointed that this organisation chose to publish this erroneous report before verifying the facts,” he said.
Responding to tobacco companies’ denial of the claims, Sanha’s theological director, Moulana Saeed Navlakhi, said the organisation stood by its statement.
“We are not saying, ‘close down the industry’.
“But we are saying that, ‘if your don’t care about yourself, at least care about your faith’.”
He denied tobacco companies’ claims that Sanha’s warning was “irresponsible and reckless”, saying that it had a responsibility towards Allah (God) and Muslims.
Navlakhi also said that even before the agency accessed the information, the halaal status of cigarettes was in question.
Some Muslim scholars, he said, were of the view that smoking was “detestable” though not strictly taboo, with others asserted it was forbidden under Islamic law.
But, Navlakhi concluded, now that Sanha had discovered pig haemoglobin in cigarettes, smoking cigarettes became forbidden.
Moulana Abdul Wahab Wookay, chief executive officer of the National Independent Halaal Trust, said his organisation had not had the opportunity to study the report.
Speaking for the Muslim Judicial Council, Sheikh Moosa Titus said he was not aware of Sanha’s findings.