Study finds no health benefits for smokers switching to low-tar and light cigarettes

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ People who switch from regular cigarettes to brands marketed as ``low tar'' or ``light'' do not reduce their chances of getting smoking-related diseases, the National Cancer Institute said Tuesday.

Some people who switched to light cigarettes, thinking they were less harmful, smoked more to preserve their intake of addictive nicotine, the report said.

In addition, tobacco companies produced cigarettes that yielded low tar and nicotine values when tested on Federal Trade Commission machines but higher levels when smoked by people, the report found.

``There is no significant difference in health risks for smokers who smoke lower-tar cigarettes than for smokers who smoke full-flavored cigarettes,'' said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. ``It's time to ban the terms 'light' and 'low-tar,' because they are misleading consumers.''

The authors reviewed five decades of scientific data examining the health effects of low-tar cigarettes, which comprise the majority of cigarettes sold in the United States. Tar is a byproduct of tobacco smoke that, when inhaled, helps deliver nicotine to smokers.

The effort to produce and market low-tar cigarettes gained momentum in the 1960s, after public health advocates said cigarettes with less tar would produce less cancer.

But the new report states that public health officials who backed the production of light cigarettes failed to take into account the highly addictive nature of nicotine and the difference in actual tar and nicotine levels taken in by people and the FTC machines.

The FTC has been using the same methods to measure tar and nicotine yields since the 1960s.

``If a person smoked cigarettes like FTC machines, theoretically there should be a reduced risk. The problem is people don't,'' said Scott Leischow, who heads the Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute.

Smokers can get higher yields by taking more or larger puffs and smoking more of the cigarette.

People who switched to light brands typically thought they were reducing their risk of developing smoking-related disease, according to the study. It found that tobacco companies contributed to those assumptions through advertising and marketing campaigns.

On its Web site, Philip Morris Inc., the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer, acknowledges the imprecision of the FTC system and denies implying low-tar cigarettes are safer than others.

``We agree that there is no safe cigarette,'' company spokesman Brendan McCormick said. McCormick added that the company does not want terms such as ``low-tar'' or ``light'' banned from cigarette packs but would support greater regulation over their use.