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Smoking Thursday, 18 March, 1999, 19:55 GMT
Low-tar cigarettes 'fool smokers'
Smokers may wrongly believe low-tar cigarettes are healthier
Smokers may wrongly believe low-tar cigarettes are healthier
Many people have been duped into smoking low-tar or mild cigarettes when they may be no better for their health than normal brands, says the Health Education Authority (HEA).

A survey shows that 77% of people have switched to low-tar cigarettes in recent years - many because they believe they are healthier than normal brands.

The HEA says this is misleading and smokers are getting "a raw deal". But tobacco manufacturers reject its findings.

Around three to four million people in England are estimated to smoke "ultra", "light" or "low-tar" cigarettes.

The HEA says the survey shows 28% of smokers believe these brands are less harmful than normal cigarettes.

Young smokers are particularly likely to think this.

Women and those on high incomes are more likely to use light brands. Half of high income women smokers use them.

But research shows that there may be no difference in lung cancer levels between people who smoke low-tar and those who smoke normal brands.

One study suggests a link between adenocarcinoma, one form of lung cancer, and low-tar brands.

The HEA survey shows that almost half of smokers want more information on packaging about the ingredients used in cigarettes and they want explanations about what tar levels mean.

Only a third of smokers were able to know independently which cigarettes were low-tar, while most relied on packaging.

Anti-smoking campaigners say the tobacco industry has known for at least 20 years that low-tar cigarettes are a con.

They register as better for smokers in the laboratory, but campaigners say that research shows that smokers adapt the way they smoke so that they absorb the same amount or more tar from the cigarettes.

The Health Education Authority says smokers have a right to be better informed.

Smoking campaign manager Steve Woodward said: "Smokers are being duped into believing that low-tar cigarettes are somehow better for them by advertising and packaging.

"Using words like 'light' and `ultra' to describe a brand of cigarettes is misleading.

"The level of tar in a cigarette is measured in a machine, but people don't smoke like machines."

Compensation

Clive Bates, a spokesman for anti-smoking group ASH, said: "They need to get the same amount of nicotine to get the hit they need so they adjust the way they smoke.

"It is called compensation. They take more puffs or inhale more deeply or smoke more of the length of the cigarette."

They also block the tiny ventilation holes which are designed to draw in air and dilute the tar.

ASH and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, who have updated a report on low-tar cigarettes to coincide with the HEA survey, want the government to stop tobacco firms branding cigarettes as low-tar.

"This gives them the appearance of being the healthy option when this is not true," said Clive Bates.

In the US, where the anti-smoking lobby is very strong, the Federal Trade Commission is evaluating low-tar cigarettes and looking at ways to regulate them.

Anti-smoking campaigners want the UK government to adopt a similar stance.

However, the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association totally reject the HEA's allegations.

John Carlisle, Director of Public Affairs, said the government had encouraged firms to advertise lower tar cigarettes.

"We reject and resent any claim that we are trying to mislead our customers," he said.

He accused the HEA of having "muddled reasoning" and said their report had "more to do with tobacco bashing than sound advice for the consumer".

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