Tobacco industry deceit on low tar cigarettes revealed

Monday 22 September 2003

ASH news release:  Embargo: 10:30 am  Monday 22 September 2003
A new TV advertising campaign, launched today by Cancer Research UK, will show how smokers have been conned into believing that low tar cigarettes are less dangerous than standard cigarettes.  The campaign launch coincides with the introduction of a new European law banning misleading descriptions such as “light” and “mild” on all cigarettes sold in the European Union [1].

Research conducted by ASH and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund showed that smokers have been misled for many years over implicit health claims made by cigarette manufacturers. [2]    Previously secret tobacco industry documents show that the cigarette companies knew that low tar cigarettes were no safer than higher tar brands, but kept the facts hidden, hoping that smokers would be reassured by terms  such as “light” and “low”. [3]

Deborah Arnott, Director of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH, said:

“This excellent new campaign will show everyone that there are no health benefits to be gained from smoking low tar cigarettes.   Quite rightly, Europe has stepped in to ban deceitful descriptions implying that some tobacco products are less dangerous than others.

Tobacco companies have a long history of lying to the public and keeping the facts as secret as possible. They simply cannot be trusted to provide honest factual information about their products.  With such a track record it is astounding tobacco is not regulated in the same way as food or medicine. The time has come for this to be remedied. [4] Europe has finally acted. But Big Tobacco will carry on deceiving people across the world until Governments elsewhere take similar action.”


Notes and links:

Why low tar cigarettes are a con:

Modifications to cigarette design, such as ventilation holes in the filter, allow more air to be drawn in, thereby reducing tar yields when measured on a machine.  However, people do not smoke like machines.  As low tar cigarettes are also lower in nicotine, smokers compensate by puffing harder or covering the ventilation holes to get the desired level of nicotine. Thus, they inhale higher levels of tar than those recorded by machine and inhale the smoke deeper into their lungs.

Who smokes light cigarettes? 

A study by the Health Education Authority found that over a third of all smokers (34%) in England reported that they smoked cigarette described as “light”, “mild”, or “ultra light”.  Light cigarettes were more popular among women, smokers from non-manual social groups, and smokers aged 35 or over.   Almost half (46%) of women smokers in non-manual groups reported smoking light cigarettes.   More than a quarter (27%) who were currently smoking light cigarettes said they did so because they were less harmful than other brands.

Source: Consumers and the Changing Cigarette.  Health Education Authority, 1999.

[1]  EU Tobacco Products Directive.  Council Directive 2001/37/EC (pdf) on the Presentation, Manufacture and Sale of tobacco products.

[2 ]  Jarvis, M. and Bates, C. Why low tar cigarettes don’t work and how the tobacco industry has fooled the smoking public. ASH, 1999.   (pdf)

[3]  For example: A BAT memo from 1977 stated:

“All work in this area should be directed towards providing consumer reassurance about cigarettes and the smoking habit.  This can be provided in different ways, e.g.  by claiming low deliveries, by the perception of low deliveries and by the perception of “mildness”.  Furthermore, advertising for low delivery or traditional brands should be constructed in ways so as not to provoke anxiety about health, but to alleviate it, and enable the smoker to feel assured about the habit and confident in maintaining it over time.”

Source:  Short PL. BAT Co. Smoking and Health Item 7: the Effect on Marketing. 14th April 1977. Minnesota Trial Exhibit 10,585.

[4] Protecting Smokers, Saving Lives – RCP 2002