A new study published online ahead of print in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention concludes that levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) are up to three times higher in cigarettes sold in the United States compared to those sold in Canada, Australia, and the UK. The research confirmed that smokers' exposure to TSNAs is significantly higher in American-blend cigarettes.
A Tale of Two Responses
In response to the new research, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids apparently told the public that reducing TSNA levels in cigarettes will improve the public's health and boasted about how FDA regulation of cigarettes will now lead to safer cigarettes because the Agency can require a reduction in TSNA levels.
According to an article from HealthDay: "Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the study "shows why the authority to issue product standards, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] now has, is critically important."This type of research will help determine changes in the design of tobacco products, he said. These changes could include "reducing TSNAs in cigarettes, which will benefit public health," McGoldrick said."
The Rest of the Story
In conflict with the Campaign's statement, there is simply no scientific evidence that reducing the levels of TSNAs in cigarettes will make them safer. While American-blend cigarettes have higher levels of TSNAs, mandating that all cigarettes use the non-American blends would not necessarily improve the public's health. Why? Because the non-American blends have higher levels of other carcinogens, including benzo[a]pyrene. In fact, the flue-cured blends tend to have higher overall tar levels than blends made primarily with burley tobacco. So there simply is no scientific basis for the statement that regulating TSNA levels in cigarettes would produce a safer cigarette. In fact, it could do just the opposite.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is essentially perpetuating the "low-tar" myth that the Campaign itself has repeatedly blasted the tobacco companies for spreading. For years, the tobacco companies labeled some of their products as having lower tar levels. However, there was no evidence that these low-tar cigarettes were actually safer, even though they emitted lower amounts of carcinogens. The Campaign attacked the tobacco companies for spreading this misinformation and deceiving consumers into thinking that lower-tar cigarettes were safer.
Now, the Campaign is essentially adopting the same unsupported mantra of the cigarette companies: that lower-tar (in this case, lower TSNA) cigarettes are safer. The clear impression that the Campaign's statement leaves with the public is that lower TSNA cigarettes would be safer. There is no scientific evidence to support this statement, and in fact, there is substantial evidence that the factors which result in lower TSNA levels produce higher levels of other carcinogens, potentially resulting in a more dangerous product, not a safer one.
The dangerous implication of the Campaign's statement is that it may encourage smokers who are concerned about their health to seek out lower risk cigarettes rather than quit smoking. Mandating low-TSNA cigarettes would have exactly such an effect, and would thus be a public health disaster.
An Alternative Response
In contrast to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' response, Philip Morris responded by emphasizing that there is at this time no such thing as a safer cigarette and that smokers who are interested in protecting their health should quit, rather than deceiving themselves into thinking they are protecting themselves by switching to a supposedly lower risk cigarette.
According to the article, Philip Morris spokesman David Sutton stated, in response to the new study: "As of today, however, there is no cigarette on the market that public health organizations endorse as offering 'reduced risk.' If smokers are concerned about the risks of cigarette smoking, the best thing to do is quit."
The Rest of the Story
I find it terribly ironic that in 2010, the scientifically unsupported and potentially fraudulent statement in response to this new research is coming from an anti-smoking group, while the scientifically solid and responsible public health statement is coming from a tobacco company.
The response of Philip Morris is a responsible one and it is scientifically solid. Philip Morris correctly points out that despite this new research, there is no such thing (at least right now) as a safer cigarette and that if smokers want to reduce their risk, they should quit, rather than entertain the idea of switching to a supposedly lower risk cigarette.
The response of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is an irresponsible one and it is scientifically unsupported. The Campaign incorrectly claims that reducing TSNA levels would result in a safer cigarette, implying that smokers who are concerned about their health should wait for the FDA to promulgate safety standards and then feel safer about their smoking.
Oh, how things have changed in tobacco control.