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Big Tobacco 'Light' Cigarette Con Exposed


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Using recently released US tobacco company documents and other trade sources, Canadian researchers have detected a concentrated effort to deceive the public about the health risks from cigarettes described as "Light" or "Ultra-Light."

Tobacco companies were concerned that growing evidence linking tobacco with lung cancer would result in large numbers of smokers quitting, according to Drs. Richard W. Pollay and T. Dewhirst from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. To meet this challenge, the companies began producing "low-tar" and "light" cigarettes, the researchers report in the March issue of Tobacco Control.

The tobacco companies believed that these cigarettes would reassure the public, the investigators say. Companies branded cigarettes as "hi-fi" (high-filtration) and implied that these cigarettes would reduce or eliminate the health risks of smoking.

However, tobacco companies themselves described filtered cigarettes as "an effective advertising gimmick," or "merely cosmetic," offering "the image of health reassurance." Company documents describe consumers who smoked low-tar cigarettes as wanting "nothing less than to be conned with information," Pollay and Dewhirst note.

Tactics used by the tobacco companies to sell these products included using ineffective filters, filters that loosened over time and actually delivered more nicotine than unfiltered cigarettes, menthol, high-tech imagery and misleading data about tar and nicotine yields.

Tobacco companies also added a seemingly healthier cigarette to an established brand. Although this "virtuous variant" product was promoted heavily, it was rarely available, causing customers to confuse the brands, the authors explain.

Names such as Merit, Life, True and descriptions such as Mild, Ultra, Light and Superlight were used to promote a healthful product image, Pollay and Dewhirst found.

Companies used machine-based tar yields that did not reflect the actual tar levels that consumers were likely to get while smoking. "Such products could (and would) be advertized as 'tar-free,' 'zero milligrams FTC tar,' or the 'ultimate low-tar cigarette,' while actually delivering 20-, 30-, 40-mg or more 'tar' when used by a human smoker! They will be extremely easy to design and produce," Brown and Williamson, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, wrote of their Barclay brand.

Based on their review, Pollay and Dewhirst conclude that "over the past 50 years, advertisements of filtered and low-tar cigarettes were intended to reassure the many smokers who were anxious about the health risk of smoking."

SOURCE: Tobacco Control 2002;11:18-31.


Reference Source 89

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