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New Study Finds Light Cigarette Smokers Are Less Likely to Quit, Shows Need For FDA Regulation to Stop Deceptive Tobacco Marketing

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 29, 2006

Washington, DC — A new study being published online today by the American Journal of Public Health adds to the evidence that the marketing of light cigarettes has contributed to the number of Americans who suffer from tobacco-related diseases instead of reducing the death toll from tobacco. The study found that smokers who say they smoke light cigarettes to reduce health risks are significantly less likely to quit smoking than people who smoke regular cigarettes, thereby increasing their risk of lung cancer, heart disease and the many other diseases and premature death caused by smoking.

Previous studies, including a landmark 2001 report by the National Cancer Institute, have found that cigarette manufacturers have deceptively marketed light and low-tar cigarettes as reducing health risks despite knowing from their own research that these cigarettes were no safer than regular brands. The new study indicates that this deceptive marketing has been all too effective. It appears to have encouraged smokers to switch to lights under the false impression it would protect their health and discouraged them from taking the one step that really can protect their health, which is to quit smoking entirely. The study found that smokers who switched to light cigarettes to reduce health risks were about 50 percent less likely to quit smoking than those who smoked non-light cigarettes.

The new study shows again that the deceptive marketing of light and low-tar cigarettes has been very harmful to the nation’s health and must be stopped once and for all. The study underscores the need for Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) effective authority to regulate tobacco products. Among other things, the FDA would have the authority to ban deceptive terms like “light”, “ultra-light” and “low-tar” and to strictly regulate other “reduced risk” claims about tobacco products to ensure they are scientifically proven and are not marketed in ways that encourage kids to start smoking or discourage smokers from quitting.

The new international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, calls on ratifying nations to ban misleading or deceptive terms on tobacco product packages. Partly in response to the treaty, 33 countries have now banned the use of terms such as light and low-tar. It is a sad commentary that the United States, once the world’s leader in reducing tobacco use, has fallen behind so much of the world in protecting its citizens from deceptive tobacco marketing. The U.S. has signed the tobacco treaty, but the Administration has kept it under review for more than two years and has yet to send it to the Senate for ratification.

The new study also has an important message for the nation’s 45 million smokers: If you are concerned about your health, there is only one solution - to quit smoking. There is no significant health difference between any of the cigarettes now on the market, and switching to light or low-tar cigarettes may actually decrease your chance of quitting.

Smokers can significantly increase their chances of quitting successfully by using scientifically proven methods, including telephone quitlines, counseling and FDA-approved medication. Federal and state elected leaders, as well as employers, need to do their part by adequately funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs that educate and motivate smokers to quit and providing affordable access to smoking cessation medication and counseling.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in our nation, claiming more than 400,000 lives and costing us more than $180 billion annually in health care bills and lost productivity. A successful effort to reduce tobacco’s terrible toll must include FDA authority over tobacco products, including the authority to stop deceptive marketing, and a national commitment to providing smokers with the real tools they need to quit.

The study was conducted by University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University researchers.