Dec. 8 2004
Washington, DC — More than four decades after the first Surgeon General’s Report was released on the dangers of smoking, smokers continue to be misled by the tobacco companies about both traditional and so-called “reduced-risk” products. Taken together, several new studies published today in the December issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research suggest not only that current smokers continue to be misled, particularly about “light” cigarettes, but that we risk a repeat of the disaster of light and low tar cigarettes with the introduction of a new generation of products with unsubstantiated claims about their relative safety. Another study shows that smokers are uninformed about the health risks of smoking. These findings underscore the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) effective authority over tobacco products, including health claims made about them.
Two of the studies in particular highlight how the tobacco companies misled smokers about light cigarettes and how claims about new products threaten to continue and expand that deception.
This latest research shows that even after a 2002 National Cancer Institute (NCI) study on low-tar cigarettes showed the tobacco industry purposely designed low-tar cigarettes to appear less toxic in machine tests while knowing that they actually posed the same level of risk to smokers, the tobacco companies still continue to market their products by using unsubstantiated health claims, and smokers are still misinformed about the health risks of smoking. The FDA must have effective and comprehensive authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products to prevent a repeat of the light/low-tar public health disaster with a new generation of deceptively marketed tobacco products.
These studies clearly demonstrate that smokers are at risk of being misled by a new generation of so-called “reduced risk” products just as they were by light and low tar cigarettes. Without Food and Drug Administration authority to assess the validity of claims by tobacco companies about their products, the experience of light and low tar cigarettes, which discouraged millions of Americans from quitting smoking and encouraged others to take up the deadly habit, is likely to be repeated with so-called “reduced risk” products that claim to contain “less carcinogens” such as Brown and Williamson’s Advance, RJ Reynolds’ Eclipse, and Vector’s Omni. FDA authority over tobacco products would ban deceptive terms like “light”, “ultra-light”, and “low-tar” and would not permit health claims in the absence of scientific evidence.
These studies are also relevant to the ongoing Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco companies that alleges they have engaged in and executed – and continue to engage in and execute – a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public.
A third study in the journal reveals that smokers are not only uninformed about the health risks of smoking but also over-estimate their own knowledge.
The fact that consumers still underestimate the health risks of smoking is yet another reason for FDA regulation of tobacco products. The tobacco industry’s portrayal of its products is part of the problem. The underestimation of the health risks of smoking, along with a misunderstanding of the risks and benefits of medicinal nicotine, can also deter smokers from trying to quit and from using the methods that greatly enhance success in quitting. These findings suggest the continued need for public education campaigns, independent of the tobacco companies, to educate the public about the harms of smoking, the benefits of quitting, and the resources available to help them quit.
Tobacco use is the nation’s leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people and costing our nation more than $75 billion in health care bills every year. Every day, another 2,000 kids become regular smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Yet tobacco products are virtually unregulated to protect consumers’ health and safety. Congress should pass legislation that grants the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products and protect the public health and ensure that once and for all, smokers are informed about the health effects of tobacco products.