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New Study on Marlboro Shows Higher Levels of Key Carcinogens

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 30, 2003

Washington, D.C. — 'New and Improved.' 'Higher Technology.' In this modern age of wireless messaging and instant communication, we all assume that anything with these labels has to be better. Well, new information released today in a study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the opposite may be true when it comes to Philip Morris' Marlboro cigarettes – the world's most popular brand. The newly released study found that Philip Morris' Marlboro, which are made using highly sophisticated production techniques, contain significantly higher levels of one of the most dangerous carcinogens found in tobacco smoke than locally made brands in countries around the world.

This groundbreaking new study published in today's issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research shows us that the brand that leads the world in sales also leads the world in at least one of the five known classes of carcinogens – tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNA's). This new research is vitally important to the health of all smokers. American's deserve to know that the Marlboro's they smoke contain higher levels of a key cancer-causing chemical than many brands sold overseas.

The high levels of nitrosamines found in Marlboro is particularly disturbing because prior studies demonstrate that Philip Morris has long known how to produce Marlboro with lower levels of nitrosamines, but apparently has chosen not to do so. Previously secret tobacco industry documents indicate that when Philip Morris introduces Marlboro into a new market, they often make a cigarette that mimics the leading domestic brand, which contain lower levels of TSNA's than the U.S. version of Marlboro. Over time, as they gain market share, they change the manufacturing process and, as they've known for years, TSNA levels rise in order to cut costs worldwide. Today's study is just the most recent example of the tobacco industry's reckless disregard for the health of smokers and yet another compelling reason why cigarettes need to be regulated by the federal government.

Another important conclusion to be drawn from this new research is that tar levels, as measured by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), are not correlated to the levels of specific carcinogens and, therefore, mislead the consumer about the relative risks of cigarettes. While tar levels, as measured by the FTC, have declined over the last 50 years, levels of TSNA's have climbed steadily.

At a time when many tobacco companies are introducing new 'reduced-risk' products, and some smokeless tobacco companies are denying any health harms by their product, this new data points out a critical gap in the protection consumers receive. If consumers are to be given accurate information about the relative risks of different tobacco products the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must be given effective regulatory authority to determine what is in the smoke of different products and what happens to the levels of each of these carcinogens and toxins when a manufacturer makes any change in the product.

The study demonstrates that even as a manufacturer promotes a product as having less of a single carcinogen, the consumer must be aware that the level of other cancer-causing agents may have actually increased. Without FDA oversight, tobacco companies will continue to have free reign to make claims about the health risks associated with their product while not disclosing the full truth. For example, a Marlboro cigarette made with lower TSNA levels could be marketed as a 'reduced carcinogen' cigarette without Philip Morris having to disclose the overall carcinogen levels in the remaining 68 known cancer-causing agents found in tobacco smoke.

The bottom line is that no company should be free to make a claim that a product is safer simply by reducing a single poison. This is a case of what you don't know can kill you.