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
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.
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