Friday, March 02, 2007

The Big Fraud: Light Cigarettes or Anti-Smoking Groups' Nicotine Regulation Propaganda?

In the DOJ tobacco case, cigarette manufacturers were found guilty of fraud for implying to the public that there is some health value in cigarettes with lower levels of nicotine. The truth is that smokers tend to compensate by increasing their puff intensity and cigarette consumption to make up for lower nicotine delivery, thus keeping their nicotine dosage the same. Thus, the suggestion that there is health value in low-nicotine cigarettes is false.

For this miscommunication, the cigarette companies have been labeled as racketeers, guilty of defrauding the American people, and they have been ordered not only to never again imply that low-nicotine cigarettes have some health value, but to not even use terms like "light" or "mild" that could possibly be construed as suggesting that these lower-nicotine products are safer in some way.

Now come an anti-smoking researcher from Harvard, a prominent tobacco control expert on nicotine addiction and tobacco products, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and its coalition of "every major national public health group," suggesting to the public that by allowing the FDA to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes, the public's health will be improved.

In other words, implying that low-nicotine cigarettes have some health value.

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story, which you won't read about in newspapers, is that these prominent tobacco control researchers and major anti-smoking groups are making the exact same fraudulent claim for which the tobacco companies were found guilty of violating federal law!

What is fraud for the tobacco companies is apparently a favored approach to the tobacco problem for major anti-smoking groups.

And the deception of the public is not just theoretical - it is actually happening. I am watching it happen before my own eyes.

Just read the newspaper editorials and columns being written about this issue. You will see that the media have been successfully deceived by the anti-smoking groups. They actually believe that reducing nicotine levels is the answer to the problem.

Take Jim Hightower's column published yesterday in the Austin Chronicle.

Hightower states: "There are easy steps the corporations could take to reduce the addictive and carcinogenic power of their products. Far from reducing the killer contents, however, cigarette makers have deliberately been juicing up the potency of their cancer sticks. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that the amount of addictive nicotine that cigarettes pump into the lungs of smokers jumped by 11% from 1998 to 2005. With no regulators to restrain them, the corporations have merrily added higher-nicotine tobacco to cigarettes... In other words, they have carelessly made their products a greater danger. This year, however, the new democratic majority in Congress has a chance to rein in these runaway greedheads by putting tobacco products under FDA regulation."

Clearly, Hightower is suggesting that by lowering levels of nicotine in cigarettes, the corporations would reduce the addictive power of their products and improve the public's health. He has fallen for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

As I have pointed out repeatedly, lowering the nicotine levels in cigarettes would be the worst thing we could do. It would be a public health disaster of unprecedented proportions. It would force smokers to increase the amount they smoke (in order to maintain the same dosage of nicotine), thereby increasing tar delivery and the resulting carcinogenic and chronic lung destruction effects.

If we do anything (short of simply eliminate the nicotine), we should actually require very high levels of nicotine in cigarettes. This would do two things: (1) decrease cigarette consumption and the resulting health effects; and (2) make cigarettes basically unpalatable for kids.Such a measure would likely decrease youth smoking substantially for this latter reason.

As a second example, take this recent editorial in the Toledo Blade. It states: "Regulating nicotine in tobacco would be a logical step, inasmuch as federal law already allows its regulation in nicotine gum, patches, and nasal sprays. Moreover, scientific studies indicate the tobacco companies have been loading up their products with the drug even as consumers are smoking less. The school of public health at Harvard University recently confirmed a survey by Massachusetts state researchers showing that nicotine levels in cigarettes rose by about 11 percent from 1997 to 2005. The survey, based on statistics submitted to the state by cigarette companies, indicates that the industry wants to keep its customers hooked, even though many now recognize the dangers of smoking and would like to quit. ... It's time to take the long-overdue step of regulating nicotine and start saving lives instead of snuffing them out."

Again -- hook, line, and sinker.

By regulating nicotine in tobacco, the editorial is talking about reducing nicotine in cigarettes. Rather than "saving lives," such a move would indeed "snuff them out." It would subject smokers to higher tar delivery, because they would tend to compensate for the reduced nicotine yields by smoking more.

To demonstrate how ridiculous is the logic behind the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' proposal, the cigarette companies have made a drastic reduction in the tar yields of their cigarettes over the past several decades. In 1977 (30 years ago), 77.3% of all cigarettes smoked had a tar yield of greater than 15 mg. Today, only about 15% of all cigarettes smoked have a tar yield of greater than 15 mg.

But you don't see the anti-smoking groups praising the tobacco companies for producing a safer product. You don't see anyone suggesting that because of these drastic reductions in tar yields, cigarettes are safer today then they were 30 years ago. I am not aware of any tobacco control colleague of mine who has argued that these drastic reductions in tar yields over the past 30 years has resulted in a safer cigarette and therefore, saved "countless lives." I'm not even aware of any tobacco control colleague who has argued that these drastic reductions in the levels of smoke constituents have resulted in saving a single life.

And if the tobacco companies did claim that these drastic reductions in tar levels had resulted in a safer cigarette, you can bet that we in tobacco control would blast them and this would be further evidence of their fraud. In fact, this is exactly what did happen.

But what the public needs to realize is that this is precisely the regulatory framework that the major anti-smoking groups are proposing! Let's force the companies to reduce the levels of smoke constituents, and that will produce a safer product. Well if reducing the overall tar yields drastically over the last 30 years didn't produce a safer product, then what good is taking out or reducing the levels of a few of the constituents?

Even more striking is the fact that cigarette companies have substantially reduced the nicotine yields of their cigarettes over the past 30 years. In 1970, the average nicotine yield of cigarettes smoked in the U.S. was 1.31 mg. Today, it is down to below 0.9 mg.

There has been a 31% reduction in nicotine levels in cigarettes over the past 3 decades!!!

But none of the anti-smoking groups which are supporting the FDA legislation are applauding the cigarette companies for reducing these nicotine yields. (We only attack them when we find short-term increases in these yields.) None of these anti-smoking groups are suggesting that there has been any health value, either in terms of a safer cigarette or reduced addiction of young people, because of these substantial changes.

Yet now, these anti-smoking groups are trying to convince us that if the FDA forces the companies to reduce the nicotine levels, it will reduce addiction and save lives.

So let's get this straight. When the cigarette companies voluntarily reduce the nicotine levels in their cigarettes:

  • it is of no health value;
  • it is dastardly and deceptive; and
  • it is fraud to even let anyone know that the nicotine levels are lower.

But if the government forces the companies to reduce the nicotine levels of their cigarettes:

  • it is of great health value (it will save "countless" lives);
  • it represents meaningful regulation to protect the public's health; and
  • it is fine to let the public know that nicotine levels are going down even though there is no proof it will protect them and there is a lot of evidence that this will hurt them.

The double standard in tobacco control is just astounding.

You don't hear the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids or its cohorts in the deception of the American public telling us that Marlboro Lights are safer or less addictive than full-strength Marlboros because the nicotine and tar levels are much lower. You don't hear these groups praising Philip Morris for taking the effort to produce a lower-yield cigarette and calling it a step in the right direction, and urging the company to keep lowering their nicotine yields and produce Marlboro Very Lights, Marlboro Ultra Very Lights, Marlboro Extremely Lights, and eventually, Marlboro Totally Fricking Lights.

Instead, these anti-smoking groups are telling us that it is fraudulent to uses the terms lights or extremely lights or totally fricking light and that these terms are completely meaningless and need to be abandoned.

Yet the regulatory scheme that these groups are supporting purports to save countless lives and reduce the addictive potential of cigarettes precisely by forcing the companies to produce Marlboro Very Lights.

All I can tell you in conclusion is that after 21 years in tobacco control, I am coming to the conclusion that the movement (at least its leading organizations) is becoming totally fricking insane.

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