Cigarettes' Health Risk Examined
Low-tar cigarettes do not carry a lower
risk of lung cancer, according to the first study comparing lung
cancer deaths among smokers of ultra-light, mild and medium filtered
The finding, published this week
in the British Medical Journal, proves what experts long suspected.
Previous research has found smokers
of "lighter" cigarettes compensate by taking deeper drags, holding
the smoke longer and smoking more cigarettes. Scientists suspected
they would probably be just as vulnerable to lung cancer and other
diseases as those who smoke harsher varieties.
"It's not surprising, but it's
very important," said Stan Glantz, a professor of cardiology at
the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved
with the research. "It's always important to demonstrate whether
a theoretical prediction is right or wrong."
Tobacco industry representatives
said manufacturers never claimed light or mild cigarettes were
safer, and don't dispute the study's findings.
The study, conducted by scientists
at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Cancer
Society, examined the link between the tar rating of the cigarette
smoked in 1982 and deaths from lung cancer in the subsequent six
years among 940,774 Americans over the age of 30 who were smokers,
former smokers or had never smoked.
Those who smoked strong non-filtered
cigarettes had a higher risk of lung cancer than those who smoked
conventional filtered cigarettes.
However, the study found no difference
in the lung cancer death rate among those who smoked the medium
filtered cigarettes and those who used mild or ultra light varieties.
The results held true after other
factors known to influence lung cancer, such as age, education
level, intake of fruits and vegetables, and duration of smoking,
had been taken into account.
The findings were the same for
men and women.
"There was not a shred of evidence
of reduced risk," said investigator Michael Thun, epidemiology
chief at the American Cancer Society. "The ultra light haven't
been used as long as the light and it is possible that some difference
in risk might emerge with longer term use of the ultra light,
but this is very, very solid for the low tar."
Thun and Glantz said the findings
will bolster the lawsuits of U.S. plaintiffs who are suing tobacco
companies on the grounds of consumer fraud. The cases allege that
smokers were duped into believing that low-tar cigarettes were
Lower-tar cigarette varieties were
developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Tim Lord, chief executive of the
London-based Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said this was
in response to government calls, because government scientists
believed that they might reduce the risks.
In the United States, industry
was similarly encouraged by health authorities to develop cigarettes
yielding less tar, in the hope that such a move would reduce the
risks, said Steve Kottak, spokesman for Kentucky-based cigarette
maker Brown & Williamson.
Tar levels were classified by using
a smoking machine. The low tar cigarettes, with more porous paper
and ventilation holes around the filter, scored lower on the machine.
However, scientists later discovered
the machine did not accurately reflect what happens when people
smoke. Smokers of light cigarettes tended to cover up the perforations,
draw harder on the cigarettes and compensate in other ways that
meant they got the same kick as from regular cigarettes.
"This was not a dastardly plot
by the tobacco industry to launch products on health claims,"
Lord said. "We never claimed it to be safer and we did it at the
request of the government. We were even asked to spend more of
our advertising and promotional pounds to promote the lighter
products than the stronger products."
In 2001 the European Union banned
the use of language such as "mild," "light" and "low tar" on cigarette
packs, and a global anti-smoking treaty passed last year by the
World Health Organization also limits the use of such terms.
Reference Source 102