NCI Report Cites Dangers in Low-Tar Cigarette Use
Cigarettes marketed as "low tar," "light" and "ultralight" are equally as "dangerous" as regular cigarettes according to a new report by the National Cancer Institute released yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reports (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 11/28). The report, "Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine," says that changes in cigarette design over the last half of a century brought about a 60% drop in the "machine-measured tar yields." However, researchers found that the amount of tar and nicotine "actually received by the smoker" offered little or no "meaningful differences in risk" between low-tar cigarettes and regular cigarettes (Burns et al, Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine, 12/2001). Researchers examined 50 years of scientific studies and literature in an effort to "provide a definitive review of the evidence about the efficacy of low-tar cigarettes" (Rosenblatt, Los Angeles Times, 11/28). The report marked the first time researchers had "extensive" access to internal documents of the tobacco companies, amounting to 33 million pages of "formal and informal memos, meeting notes, research papers, and similar corporate documents" (Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine, 12/2001). The report says that smokers often compensate for the lower amounts of nicotine and tar by smoking more intensely and frequently (Los Angeles Times, 11/28). David Burns, lead editor of the report and professor at University of California-San Diego, said, "There is no convincing evidence that changes in cigarette design over the past 50 years have reduced the disease burden produced by smoking. Risk-reduction from so-called low-tar cigarettes is an illusion marketed by the tobacco industry."
Anti-smoking groups yesterday held a press conference to release the report and called for a ban on the "widely-used" marketing terms "light," "low tar," "ultralight," and "mild" in association with low machine-measured tar cigarettes (Wall Street Journal, 11/28). Representatives from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids want Congress to afford the FDA "the power to regulate tobacco products and ban the marketing terms" (Los Angeles Times, 11/28). Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "It's time to end this deception and bury the terms 'light' and 'low tar.'" Tobacco companies responded to the report saying they are against a ban on such words. Seth Moskowitz, a spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., said, "[The terms] are not meant to imply in any way, shape or form, that any cigarette is safer than any other" (Wall Street Journal, 11/28). He added, "[W]e agree that the only sure way to reduce the risks of smoking is to quit" (Los Angeles Times, 11/28).
At the press conference, gun control activist Sarah Brady said "through tears and coughs" that she has been unable to quit smoking -- even after she was diagnosed with lung cancer, MSNBC reports. She is the wife of former President Ronald Reagan's Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot during a presidential assasination attempt in 1981. Brady, who said she has tried to quit smoking but has used the habit as a "crutch" after her husband was shot, switched to light cigarettes "thinking they would be better" for her. She disclosed last April that she has lung cancer (MSNBC, 11/27). "Never allow yourself get into the predicament that I'm in," she said at the conference, adding "The switch to low tar lured me into a feeling of false security" (CBS News, 11/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.