ASH calls for immediate action on low tar cigarettes

Sunday 08 March 1998

ASH/ Press releases/


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Press release08 March 1998 ASH
Action on Smoking
and Health

ASH calls for immediate action on low tar cigarettes

New findings. ASH today releases evidence showing that lowtar cigarettes, such as Silk Cut Ultra or Marlboro Lights, offer minimal health gains tosmokers compared to smoking ordinary cigarettes.

Research shows that to achieve a satisfactory nicotine ‘hit’ smokers adjusttheir smoking behaviour to take in a satisfying dose of nicotine (and with it a high doseof harmful tar) – by taking more or deeper puffs or by blocking ventilation holes withfingers lips, or saliva in the filters of these cigarettes… often subconsciously.Measurements at the Laboratory of the Government Chemist conducted for ASH and TheObserver newspaper (which carries the story today), show that blocking the ventilationholes in the filter of a Silk Cut Ultra raises its tar yield from 1 milligram to 12milligrams – a factor of twelve increase.

What the tobacco industry knows and how it has behaved.Tobacco industry documents released over during the ongoing tobacco litigation in the USState of Minnesota show that the industry has known of this compensation effect for manyyears, and that they understood the role of nicotine addiction in making smokers changethe way they smoke to achieve a satisfactory dose of nicotine. Finally, the documents showthat the industry wrestled with the ethical implications of designing products that willregister as low tar when measured on smoking machine and reported on labels but willdeliver high tar levels to the smoker – then went ahead anyway.

What should be done.  ASH has written to the Ministerfor Public Health, Tessa Jowell MP, requesting four responses: 1. That the tar andnicotine numbers should be removed from packs – they are misleading and dangerous; 2. Thenumbers should be replaced with an addiction warning – “Regular use of this productmay make you physically dependent on it”; 3. Branding such as ‘Low’,’Light’, ‘Mild’, ‘Ultra’ etc should be withdrawn immediately- it represents a false implied health claim; 4. A system of measurement and regulationthat focuses on reducing harmful toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in smoke must replacethe existing system.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH, said “it’s a serious con, smokers worried abouttheir health may be switching to these brands rather than giving up and doing themselveshardly any good at all. But then that’s what the tobacco industry want – carry onsmoking, but with a false sense of security. This is dangerously misleading consumerinformation and dishonest branding, that should be withdrawn immediately.”

Dr Martin Jarvis of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and co-author of the paper, said”This shows that the current approach to so-called safer cigarettes is thoroughlyflawed and we need a completely new regulatory system to deal with the toxic andcarcinogenic contents of cigarette smoke.”

* The findings and tobacco industry statements are detailed in a 9 page report “<ahref=”.. papers=”” big-one.html”=””>BIG ONE – low tar cigarettes and smokercompensation” – a 3 page summary of this paper and the letter to the Minister forPublic Health are available.


Contact Clive Bates, Director (020) 7739 5902
Dr. Martin Jarvis, ICRF 0171 209 6626
Amanda Sandford, Communications Director (020) 7739 5902

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