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Historical perspective: the low tar lie
  1. National Cancer Institute
  2. Baltimore, Maryland
  3. USA

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    There's an old adage which says, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” There is no product to which this adage applies more than to cigarettes. Although the public may believe that the major change in terms of cigarette design over the past 40 years has been the reduction of risk posed by low tar filter cigarettes, cigarettes today are just as deadly as they were back in the 1950s, and perhaps even more so.1 Why is there this disparity between consumer belief and harsh reality?

    When the first scientific studies were published in the early 1950s linking cigarette smoking with lung cancer, the tobacco industry introduced and widely promoted filtered cigarettes. In fact cigarette ads at that time blatantly stated that filtered cigarettes were in fact safe.2 Filters, they claimed, greatly reduced the toxins that made non-filtered cigarettes so harmful. In their effort to convince the public of the safety of filters, the major tobacco companies enlisted Hollywood, famous athletes, the American Medical Association, and other very prominent medical groups in this whole debate.3 Today 98% of all cigarettes that are smoked in this country are filtered. Clearly industry advertising and marketing practices played a major role in the growth of this segment of the market. But the government played an unwitting role as well.

    When the 1964 Surgeon General's report was released,4 it did not contain any information regarding the relative safety of filtered versus non-filtered cigarettes. But two years later, the US Public Health Service issued the following statement on cigarette smoke constituents: “The preponderance of the scientific evidence strongly suggests that the lower the tar and nicotine content of the cigarette smoke, the less harmful would be the effect.”5 Soon after, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began testing …

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