Low tar

These days you almost can’t talk about lower tar cigarettes without the ensuing argument of compensatory smoking and the misleading intent of the cigarette manufacturers deliberately producing lower tar products and misleading the public.

But the debate raises a fundamental flaw in the public health community’s argument for low tar cigarettes.

Why is it that the original surgeon general’s findings in the US and UK both concluded there were health risks with smoking and that the evidence was the more you smoked the higher the risk?

Assuming this is correct – and if you want further evidence read my post on menthol cigarettes – then smoking lower tar cigarettes or fewer must have advantages. Right?

Some governments appear to agree. The EU, Canada, Brazil and Saudi Arabia all have tar ceilings.

Elements of the WHO and CDC and many public health advocates choose mostly to ignore this key point.

Again it is the consumer who bears the brunt of this  – surely they should benefit (albeit not as much as using other tobacco products) from lower tar or less harmful cigarette developments?

Where is the constructive debate on lower tar products and reduced risk in cigarette smoking? Would FDA regulation help drive this?


#1 CIG GUY on 07.11.08 at 1:30 AM

I have always believed that lower tar would mostly be washed out by the smoker smoking more cigarettes.

#2 Adrian on 07.11.08 at 1:13 PM

In response to Cig Guy, sure smokers tend to partially compensate when switching to lower-tar cigarettes, but my understanding is that this is more a case of taking bigger puffs rather than smoking more cigarettes. Having said that, Chris is right – there should be a constructive debate about lower tar products, especially ultra-low tar products. Unfortunately for consumers, the ‘industry conspiracy’ train has already left the station on low tar and this makes it very difficult to have this debate. I think it also reflects a groupthink mentality that is too concerned with saving people and not concerned enough about the people thought to need saving. Although quitting will always be the best option, consumers should be given accurate information about the relative risks of different types of tobacco products (and NRT) one to another. Hence I remain to be convinced that (at least in its present form) FDA regulation would drive a more constructive debate on lower tar products and PREPS in general. However one organisation at least (AHEAD) have put forward proposals that might change this.

#3 Bill Godshall on 07.14.08 at 3:24 PM

There is no empirical evidence that so-called low-tar, light, or ultra-light cigarettes (or filtered cigarettes) are any less hazardous than other cigarettes.

Unfortunately, some public health agencies and advocates, many cigarette company researchers and executives, and the overwhelming majority of smokers and nonsmokers inaccurately believe that so-called low tar, light and ultra-light (and filtered) cigarettes are less hazardous than other cigarettes.

#4 JD on 07.29.08 at 11:27 AM

Returning to the “days of yesteryear” or “back in the day” when low tar cigarettes were first coming to market, the inherent design of the low tar cigarette made it totally unreliable to measure for each individual smoker. The lowering of tar and nicotine was first achieved by creating larger holes surrounding the filter. Advances in filter technology, then “fluffing” the tobacco to place a smaller amount of tobacco within each stick, combined to produce a lower tar smoke. Do a thorough examination of Carelton. If you ever lifted a case of Carelton’s vs. a case of Chesterfield’s you’ll know what I’m talking about. “Back in the day” the old American Tobacco Company was laughing all the way to the bank – less tobacco = less cost =more profit.

One of the problems with the accuracy of the tar content however was that individual smokers do not smoke like the smoking machines that measure the tar and nicotine in each stick. Placing your fingers around a specific area of the filter will effectively block much of the air holes and allow a higher amount of tar content to enter the lungs. Also, some of the flavoring additives were lessened in low tar brands which would reduce the tar that resulted from burning the additives.

For years, everyone seemed to be OK with this system. People felt that they were getting a “better”, “safer” smoke, the scientific numbers were there for all to examine and seemed irrefutable, the tobacco companies were doing what was demanded. Fast forward to today and we know more than the past. More research will undoubtedly help pave the way to better products.

#5 Chris Crawley on 08.17.08 at 3:33 PM

Bill (Godshall)
Your comment about low tar cigarettes has been heard before – many times.

From a contrary perspective though, it was the original US & UK Surgeon General’s reports that indicated a causal link to lung cancer -and possibly other smoking related diseases. In those reports the epidemiological evidence was that the more cigarettes smoked the higher the risk.

Fair enough.

But doesn’t it then logically imply that the less you smoke the lower the risk?

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