British Health Groups demand radical change to cigarette & nicotine regulation

Wednesday 28 October 1998

BMJ Press Conference – 28th October 1998 at 12:30pm

The machine measured tar and nicotine yields [2] to be abandoned as a basis for labelling and regulation because they are extremely misleading and likely to cause harm if people believe the numbers in reflect health impact (they do not);
The heads of seven UK health groups [1] have called on the Minister for Public Health, Tessa Jowell, to support a thorough overhaul the current regime for testing and regulating the tar, nicotine and additives in cigarettes. In a letter to the released today (pdf) at a joint press conference with the BMA and American Medical Association [2] the groups call for:

  • Low tar, light, mild etc. branding is an implied health claim based on these tar and nicotine yield numbers and should be banned or justified by evidence that these brands do actually reduce harm.  Most evidence suggests there is little or no health benefit [3];
  • Additives to cigarettes, especially those that increase addictiveness, improve the taste for children or cause cigarettes to keep burning, to be banned or subject to a test of public interest.  There are currently minimal controls over additives [4].
  • Cigarettes to be recognised as a drug (nicotine) delivery system and regulated as such.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH said, “Nicotine is a powerfully addictive and legal drug with over 12 million users in Britain, but smoking tobacco is like using a dirtysyringe to deliver the drug.  Nicotine delivery could be very substantially cleaned up, but the current tobacco regulations are ineffective and probably doing more harm than good.”

“Brands like Marlboro Lights and Silk Cut Ultra should be taken off the market.  The branding is misleading the public into thinking they are significantly less dangerous, but they are basically a con trick.” said Bates.

  1. Royal College of Physicians, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research Campaign, Imperial Cancer Research Fund, British Medical Association, Health Education Authority, and ASH.
  2. EU Directive 90/239/EEC requires cigarettes sold in the EU to have a maximum tar yield of 12 mg. There is no nicotine limit, but tar and nicotine tend to come in a ratio of around 10:1. Changes to regulations on tobacco product contents would require action at the EU level
  3. For an explanation of why this measurement is no longer useful and how the tobacco industry has exploited it, see ASH’s report on Low Tar Cigarettes (pdf)
  4. Over 600 additives are licensed for use in the UK. New additives are regulated under a 1997 UK voluntary agreement, but new additives licensed anywhere in the EU must be permitted in the UK.


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