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Joint Statement of Public Health Organizations Reaction to New NCI Study on Light and Low Tar Cigarettes

Smokers Should Quit, Not Switch and Government Must Grant FDA Authority Over Tobacco Products
November 27, 2001

Washington, DC — The National Cancer Institute today released a comprehensive new report detailing the 50-year history of light and low-tar cigarettes and their impact on the public's health. The report concludes, 'Epidemiological and other scientific evidence, including patterns of mortality from smoking-caused diseases, does not indicate a benefit to public health from changes in cigarette design and manufacturing over the last fifty years.' The report further concludes that the marketing of these products as delivering less tar and reducing risk is 'deceptive' and smokers' choice of these products as an alternative to quitting makes this deception an 'urgent public health issue.'

There are two clear messages to be taken from this groundbreaking new report:

  1. If smokers are concerned about their health, there is only one solution – to quit smoking. There is no significant health difference between any of the cigarettes currently on the market. Misunderstanding of the health implications of the terms 'light' and 'low-tar' has led millions of Americans to use these products thinking they were safer. It is critical that a major public education campaign be initiated to counter these misconceptions.

  2. The terms 'light,' 'low tar' and 'ultra light' are deceptive and should be eliminated. It is time to end the special exemption tobacco receives from oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Congress should grant the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products, including the ability to ban the terms 'light,' 'ultra-light' and 'low-tar.' Until Congress acts, we call on the tobacco industry to do so on their own.

Since the introduction of 'light' cigarettes, smokers have flocked to them. Today, close to 90 percent of cigarettes smoked are low-tar brands. We now know what the tobacco industry has known for years: because smokers smoke low-tar cigarettes differently, they did not reduce their exposure to tar and therefore did not reduce their risk of lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other tobacco-caused diseases. Despite knowing that these products were not safer, the tobacco industry deceptively marketed the 'illusion of risk reduction.' They did so especially and most tragically to smokers who were thinking of quitting, causing them to keep smoking instead of making a change that would have truly reduced their disease risk.

The urgency of passing FDA authority over tobacco could not be more clearly demonstrated than by the tobacco industry's recent marketing of a new generation of so-called 'reduced-risk' products. Unless the FDA is granted authority to verify and regulate claims of potential health benefits, the history described in today's report could very well repeat itself, and another generation of smokers will learn decades from now that they, too, believed the tobacco industry's claims of reduced risk at their own peril.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people every year. The overwhelming majority of smokers begin as children. Today's report should serve as a call to action to take two critical steps that can help address this public health epidemic and protect our children. We must educate smokers so they understand that the only solution, if they are concerned about their health, is to quit; and, we must end the use of deceptive and misleading terms like 'light' and 'low tar' by eliminating the special exemption from regulation that allows the tobacco industry to self-police their products and the health claims they make about them.

Note: For more information on this subject (including quotes from tobacco industry documents showing what they knew and when and examples of tobacco industry advertising), please go to The Low-Tar Lie. For more information on getting help to quit smoking, please go to:

Signed by the following groups (as of November 26, 2001)


American Cancer Society

American Heart Association

American Lung Association

American Public Health Association

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Academy of Family Physicians

American College of Cardiologists

American College of Chest Physicians

American College of Preventive Medicine

American Psychological Association

American Thoracic Society

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco

National Association of County and City Health Officials

National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families

Pharmacy Council on Tobacco Dependence

Oncology Nursing Society

Oral Health America

Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco

Society for Women's Health Research



Dr. Julius Richmond, Surgeon General, 1977-81, Professor of Health Policy Emeritus, Harvard Medical School

Dr. Stuart Bondurant, Chair, Institute of Medicine Committee to Assess the Science Base for Tobacco Harm Reduction