April 29, 2022 2 min read

The story of Dr James D. Mold and his cancer free cigarette is one that would incense every smoker and every person who has lost a loved one due to the effects of tobacco smoking.  While there have always been rumours that tobacco companies were less than honest about the health risks associated with cigarette smoking, the information that came to light about the pioneering work Mold did and how he was ignored highlights the greed that drove the tobacco industry.

How It All Started

Mold began working in 1955 as a scientist for Liggett & Myers, a tobacco company in North Carolina.  His role was to identify cancer causing ingredients in cigarette smoke that lab mice were exposed to.  Working alongside other scientists, Mold found the materials that caused cancer on the skin of lab mice and started a project to make a safer cigarette that would exclude or minimise these harmful ingredients.

Project XA

Mold’s pioneering work on creating a different cigarette that didn’t give you cancer became known as Project XA.  He had the backing of Liggett to develop such a product, and worked incessantly with the A.D Little Company on the task ahead.

25 years after he started, Mold finally came up with the XA, or the palladium cigarette, that relied on the use of palladium and magnesium nitrate to destroy cancer causing substances in cigarette smoke.  Indeed, in lab tests performed, these cigarettes were shown to have been successful in reducing the incidence of cancer in lab animals.

Litigation Worries

Despite the company’s initial support, Executives withdrew their backing for the project and the palladium cigarette never got to the production stage.  The main reason for this was simple – the company’s lawyers had advised that launching a safer product would lead to endless lawsuits from the public for the less safe products that Liggett sold.

After 25 years of research and development, Mold had hit a brick wall and could not do anything to continue his project.  All his previous work simply had to be abandoned and forgotten, as Liggett requested Mold not to publish anything he did or learned on the subject.  So, after more than two decades, the public had no better knowledge or a safer product despite the work that was done.  Worse still, Liggett and other tobacco giants continued to sell cancer causing cigarettes, even though they were fully aware of the health risks associated with what they sold.

Breaking Ranks With Other Tobacco Giants

Another reason the palladium cigarette never made it to the shelves was because Liggett didn’t want to break ranks with other tobacco giants like Phillip Morris.  Although the company knew that the product would be commercially viable and marketable, they were more worried about the potential retaliation from other tobacco companies in the industry.

In the end, after spending an estimated $10million on the project, Liggett buried all traces of it in the sand.  From 1975 onwards, all internal meetings associated with Project XA had to be attended to by a company lawyer, which shows clearly how worried the tobacco company was about the safety of their products.