The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, supported by other national anti-smoking groups, has argued that one of the major public health benefits of the Tobacco Act, which they argue will save "countless lives," is that the FDA has the authority to regulate the levels of specific tobacco constituents.
The Campaign, for example, boasted to the public that "the reduction or elimination of harmful ingredients, additives and constituents" will protect the public's health and save "countless lives." The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and American Cancer Society told the American people that one of the key benefits of the Tobacco Act is that "FDA will have authority to require manufacturers to reduce or eliminate harmful ingredients and/or smoke constituents where technologically feasible."
Through these statements, the anti-smoking groups are implying that reducing or eliminating specific harmful constituents in tobacco smoke will result in a safer cigarette that will save lives and improve the public's health.
There is, however, no scientific evidence that reducing the level of or removing specific constituents in tobacco smoke would result in a safer cigarette.
For example, an article published in the March 2007 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention concludes that even if all currently known and measured carcinogens in tobacco smoke were completely removed, there would be little reason to believe that there would be any observable reduction in smoking-related cancers (see: Pankow JF, Watanabe KH, Toccalino PL, Luo W, Austin DF. Calculated cancer risks for conventional and 'potentially reduced exposure product' cigarettes. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2007; 16:584-592).
The researchers found that knowledge of the yields of all currently known lung carcinogens in cigarettes was able to account for less than 4% of the observed lung cancer risk of cigarette smoking. This inability to account for observed cancer risk means, they conclude, that even if all currently known and measured carcinogens were completely removed from cigarette smoke, there would be no reason to believe that actual human cancer risk would be decreased.
The authors conclude: "The current inability to account for the observed health risks of smoking based on existing data indicates that current expressed/implied marketing promises of reduced harm from PREPs are unverified: there is little reason to be confident that total removal of the currently measured human lung carcinogens would reduce the incidence of lung cancer among smokers by any noticeable amount."
"Expressed another way, even if a PREP design were to succeed in removing all currently measured known human lung carcinogens from cigarette smoke (and even perhaps all other currently measured carcinogens), there would be little reason to be confident that such removal would by itself lead to any observable reduction in smoking related lung cancer."
The Rest of the Story
In contrast to the anti-smoking groups, the tobacco industry is telling the truth about the lack of evidence that reducing or eliminating specific tobacco smoke constituents would produce a safer cigarette. Last week, Chris Proctor, the chief scientist at British American Tobacco stated: "Even if you can reduce the levels of a significant number of toxicants in tobacco smoke, there is no guarantee that this will result in reduced exposure in people or result in a reduction in health risks."
Sadly, this is an important point that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and its supporting national anti-smoking groups, like the American Cancer Society, are not telling the public.
Dr. Proctor's statement comes in the context of a tobacco industry study showing that tobacco can be treated in a way that largely removes certain harmful proteins and polyphenols, resulting in cigarettes that deliver much lower levels of hydrogen cyanide, aromatic amines, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines.
Unlike the anti-smoking groups, however, these tobacco industry researchers were honest in disclosing to the public that: "It is not possible to judge from the smoke chemistry whether cigarettes that include tobacco treated in this manner would reasonably be expected to reduce the risk of one or more specific diseases or other adverse health effects associated with smoking. The 43 toxicants that were measured for this study represent a small fraction of around 5,000 chemical constituents that have been identified in mainstream smoke."
It is truly a sad day for tobacco control when the tobacco companies are being honest about the relationship between measured toxicants and disease risk, while the anti-smoking groups are wildly deceiving the public about the very same scientific issue.