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Company Recalls 8 Billion Cigarettes

Philip Morris Companies announced a $100 million recall Friday involving more than eight billion filter cigarettes, including its Marlboro, Virginia Slims and Benson & Hedges brands.

The company said manufacturing defects in filters could cause “temporary discomfort” to smokers from an irritant that is similar to a commercial pesticide.

Since there is no way to identify the defective cigarettes their boxes or cartons, the company asked all smokers of 36 of its cigarette products to return them to retailers immediately for a full refund.

It offered a 24-hour toll-free number, (800) 757-2555, for people with questions.

Marlboro is the world’s largest selling cigarette brand. Besides it, Virginia Slims and Benson & Hedges, the other Philip Morris brands being recalled are:

Merit, Basic, Cambridge Lights, Alpine Lights, Bristol Lights, Premium Buy Lights, Best Buy, Shield and Bronson. Under each of those labels are a variety of lengths, strengths and package types.

The recall, which Philip Morris termed voluntary and which analysts and industry observers said was unprecedented, came a half-hour before the close of The New York Stock Exchange, and triggered a flurry of selling that ran down Philip Morris stock to $69.875, a loss of $2.

Philip Morris said that its filters, provided by Hoechst Celanese, are sprayed with a glycerine-based stiffening agent, or plasticizer.

Dr. Richard Carchman, director of scientific affairs at Philip Morris USA, said that “we detected half a dozen chemical contaminants in the plasticizer.”

These contaminants create not only an unpleasant odor and give a metallic taste to the cigarettes when smoked, Carchman said, but can also cause “temporary discomfort, including eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, coughing and wheezing.”

These effects are “short term and reversible,” he said.

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