The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has just released a comprehensive report on cigarettes and the tobacco industry, entitled Designed for Addiction. The report was compiled from internal documents released by the tobacco industry, Surgeon General reports and published research. According to the report, cigarettes are more harmful today than they were in 1964 when we first learned of the health risks of tobacco. The report was timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the authority to regulate aspects of the tobacco industry. Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in an interview with ABC News, said he hopes the report will serve as a “critical wake up call for smokers” and a “spark for the FDA to act and to act boldly.” (Tobaccofreekids.org, 6/23/14)
“The tobacco industry has taken a bad product and made it even worse,” says Myers and he cites examples. Increased nicotine and ammonia, which speeds up the rate that nicotine reaches the brain, make the products more addictive, the report says. Flavors like licorice or chocolate “mask the harshness of the smoke and make tobacco products more appealing for young people,” according to the report. While the Tobacco Control Act of 2009 banned flavors, they can still be added at low levels. (ABCNews.com, 6/23/14)
Another trick used by cigarette manufacturers is the use of ventilation holes in filters. The holes help to mask the level of nicotine detected during machine testing. The machine test used by the FTC, originally designed by the tobacco manufacturers as a way of standardizing tar and nicotine content, simulates a standardized puffing protocol, with uniform puff size, rate and cigarette butt size. (Tobaccofreekids.org, 6/23/14) The cigarettes appear to be healthier, but the ventilation actually causes smokers to smoke differently—they draw more deeply, bringing more toxic smoke into lungs.
American cigarettes contain higher levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) than those manufactured in Canada and Australia. TSNA is a chemical known to cause cancer, which has always been present in cigarettes but has been increased since 1964. So, cigarettes are now “new and improved” – i.e., deadlier than ever. Progress is great, right?
Here is a good summary of the current cigarette situation: “Most people would think that 50 years after we learned that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, cigarettes would be safer. What’s shocking about the report we issued today is that we’ve found that a smoker today has more than twice the risk of lung cancer than a smoker fifty years ago, as a direct result of design changes made by the industry,” Matt Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in an interview with ThinkProgress.org. “At a very minimum, the FDA should act swiftly to require the tobacco industry to reverse all the steps they’ve taken to make these products more dangerous, more addictive, and more appealing to our kids,” (ThinkProgress.org, 6/23/14)
Has the tobacco industry “reformed” over the last 50 years? (It clearly has become “better” at producing highly efficient and powerful cigarettes, which is a great goal for the automobile or computer industry, but not for a carcinogen producer). Or has it become more sophisticated in its marketing tactics, taking advantage of technological and scientific advances to enhance the addictive nature of its tobacco products? What do we make of its continued use of flavorings and sugar, and its success at marketing to new and/or younger smokers, who may be turned off by the natural harsh taste of tobacco? Shall we practice laissez faire policies (and economics) here?
What has really been the result of all the health warnings and monitoring we have seen implemented since 1964, or since the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed by Congress? On the plus side, a big plus to be sure, we are seeing a historically low rate of smoking in the US, which is fantastic. The job is not finished, however, as the risk of dying from cigarette smoking for those that do smoke is greater now than it was in 1964. Does the same hold true for second-hand smoke?
According to the Surgeon General, smoking kills 480,000 Americans each year. It is estimated that half of today’s smokers will die prematurely and that every year we spend $289 billion on health care and other financial losses associated with cigarette smoking. That is truly remarkable. (Vox.com, 6/23/14)
The most recent Surgeon General’s report calls for a series of specific actions, including “effective implementation of FDA’s authority for tobacco product regulation in order to reduce tobacco product addictiveness and harmfulness.” (Tobaccofreekids.org) It appears to be critical, not only for our health, but to us as taxpayers as well, that the FDA begin the process immediately to require manufacturers to reduce the toxicity of their products, reduce nicotine levels to minimize addiction, and prevent tobacco companies from adding ingredients that attract our youth. While we have decreased the smoking rate (although this writer still sees a lot of teenagers smoking), a lot of work remains regarding cigarettes, if for no other reason than this public health problem still adds a tremendous cost to our economy, and to the taxpayers paying for health care for those who continue to smoke.