Low-Tar, Light Cigarettes May Not Be Safer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cigarettes made with modified tobacco or designed to burn at low temperatures do not necessarily deliver on promises to make smoking safer and may even be dangerous, a panel of experts said on Thursday.
Even aids meant to help people kick the habit, such as nicotine patches, gum and antidepressants, may have their own side-effects, said the committee, appointed to advise the government.
They urged the industry, government and independent researchers to do more studies to show whether the products reduce the amount of toxins that smokers take in -- or encourage people to smoke more because it seems less dangerous.
And they also recommended legislation that would tighten regulation of all tobacco products, perhaps by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
``None of these products has been proven to be effective in reducing harm,'' Dr. Stuart Bondurant, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina who chaired the panel, told reporters.
Bondurant and colleagues appointed by the Institute of Medicine (IoM), one of the National Academies of Sciences, were asked by the FDA to look at the claims of such products in 1999. Their review, published on Friday by the IOM, concludes that it is hard to say whether they work.
They did not look at specific products, such as Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Co.'s low-temperature Eclipse cigarette, one made by Vector Group Ltd. that allegedly contains lower levels of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or one called Advance, made by Star Scientific Inc., but rather at the class as a whole.
``There is little direct evidence that removal of specific substances from tobacco smoke or from tobacco actually reduces risk or harm to human health,'' the report reads.
``It is not safe to use these products because they expose people to tobacco-containing smoke,'' Bondurant said. ``You should not be using any tobacco product.''
Several studies suggest that low-tar or light cigarettes are no such thing.
Smokers Puff Harder On ``Lights''
``Essentially, people smoke to maintain a certain level of nicotine in their blood,'' said Dr. Peter Shields, a professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. ``When they go to low-nicotine cigarettes, they suck harder and they smoke more. We know that people are overcompensating.''
The researchers said they were worried that some people may get the idea that there are safe cigarettes or other tobacco and nicotine-containing products.
Shields said committee members were painfully aware of mistakes made when filtered cigarettes first came out and health experts urged smokers to switch -- only to find out decades later that filters do not save any lives.
He said this committee did not want to mislead anyone. ``We have to say to consumers 'you are kind of on your own','' he said.
``Some people crave nicotine forever and if they thought there was a safe cigarette, they'd be back smoking like that,'' Shields added, snapping his fingers.
The IoM committee also looked at products designed to help smokers quit, such as nicotine patches, inhalers and nasal sprays and drugs such as antidepressants and medicines that interfere with the effects of nicotine.
Dorothy Hatsukami, a tobacco researcher at the University of Minnesota, said many people use nicotine replacement devices such as patches or gum and continue to smoke. ``Some studies show they do reduce smoking levels, but we don't know whether that translates into a reduced disease risk,'' she said.
As for nicotine replacement products, she said, ``We don't know the long-term effects of these products.''
About 47 million Americans, or a quarter of the adult population, smoke. While 70 percent say they want to quit, only three percent manage it each year. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, the most common form of cancer, and heart disease -- the two biggest killers in developed countries.