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FOR RELEASE: December 31, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

New Year’s Resolution - It’s Better to Quit than Switch
“Low-Tar” Cigarettes Not Safer

New Year’s resolutions could spell trouble for the profits of tobacco companies as tens of thousands of Oklahomans try to quit smoking in the early weeks of 2003. Surveys of current and past smokers have shown that while relatively few smokers are successful in quitting on their first attempt, the more that a person tries to quit, the greater their chances of success.

One practice that has been used by the tobacco industry to reduce the number of quit attempts among smokers is the heavy marketing of so-called “low-tar” and “low-nicotine”cigarettes. These products, first introduced in the 1960s, can give the illusion of being safer but actually reduce a smoker’s health risks very little, if at all.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) report Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine, many smokers switch to low-tar cigarettes without understanding that these brands “do not typically deliver lower tar to smokers, and people who smoke low-tar cigarettes cannot expect to have fewer smoking-related health problems” and that “the absence of meaningful differences in risk make the marketing of these cigarettes as lower-delivery and lower-risk products deceptive for the smoker.”

The NCI report also found that these low-yield brands are “targeted at those smokers who were thinking of quitting in an effort to intercept the smokers and keep them smoking cigarettes” and that “the reality that many smokers chose these products as an alternative to cessation-a change that would produce real reductions in disease risks-makes this deception an urgent public health issue.” The report cites internal tobacco company documents showing that “cigarette manufacturers recognized the inherent deception of advertising that offered cigarettes as ‘Light’ or ‘Ultra-Light,’ or as having the lowest tar and nicotine yields.”

“The good news is that most smokers still want to quit smoking completely,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch.

According to the 2002 Oklahoma Adult Tobacco Survey, four out of five current adult smokers in Oklahoma have tried to quit smoking at least once in their lifetimes and three out of five adult smokers have tried to quit at least once during the past 12 months. About one-half of all Oklahomans who have ever smoked cigarettes are still smoking.

Other findings from the NCI report include:

  • The measurements of tar and nicotine yields listed on cigarette packages do not really tell smokers the amount of tar and nicotine they will receive from a cigarette or the relative amounts of tar and nicotine received from smoking different cigarette brands.
  • When smokers switch to cigarettes that are called “low-tar,” “light,” or “ultra-light,” they change the way they smoke to compensate for the lower yield. In addition to simply increasing the number of cigarettes smoked per day, smokers of low-tar cigarettes take more puffs per cigarette and increase the amount of smoke they inhale per puff. Tobacco industry studies show that puff volumes increase as nicotine yields decrease.
  • Air vents in the filter dilute the smoke with air, thus reducing the levels of tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide reported by the standard test method. However, the cigarette industry has known for decades that smokers can easily and unknowingly cover the vents with either their lips or fingers, thereby decreasing or canceling out the air-dilution effect.
  • The widespread use of low-tar cigarettes in the United States has not prevented the continued increase in lung cancer among older smokers.
  • There is no such thing as a “safe” cigarette. The only way to reduce the disease risks associated with smoking is to quit. Any recommendation to switch to low-tar brands can cause harm if it misleads smokers to delay or prevent efforts to quit smoking.

Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine is the 13th volume in the Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph Series of the National Cancer Institute. The monograph series was established in 1991 as a way to communicate important information to the public about health issues regarding smoking and tobacco use. Copies of the full NCI report are available by contacting the Tobacco Use Prevention Service at 405-271-3619 or may be accessed online at http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/tcrb/monographs/13/index.html. For tips on quitting smoking, please see http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/how2quit.htm.

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