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The future of tobacco product regulation and labelling in Europe: implications for the forthcoming European Union directive
  1. Clive Batesa,
  2. Ann McNeillb,
  3. Martin Jarvisc,
  4. Nigel Grayd
  1. aAction on Smoking and Health, London, UK, bHealth Education Authority, London, cImperial Cancer Research Fund, Health Behaviour Unit, University College London, dEuropean Institute of Oncology, Milan, Italy
  1. C Bates, Action on Smoking and Health, 102–108, Clifton Street, London EC2A 4HW, UK;clive.bates{at}

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The European Commission has announced that it is considering legislation concerning further restrictions on cigarette tar and nicotine yields, as well as new provisions to regulate additives and the labelling of tobacco products. This report considers these issues and their relation to public health.

In particular, we argue that further reductions in tar and nicotine yields as measured by the International Standards Organisation/Federal Trade Commission (ISO/FTC) method will be largely cosmetic and certainly misleading to consumers. If a new directive uses the ISO/FTC methodology as a basis for regulation, it risks lending further official support to the concept of “low tar” cigarettes, which may be used by smokers as an alternative to smoking cessation.

Although new regulations based on the ISO/FTC methodology may appear to offer health gains, these will be illusory and there may even benegative health consequences, as has been the case with these tests up to the present. We therefore make the following recommendations for the way forward.


It is widely recognised that the ISO/FTC test does not work—not least by the FTC itself. By legitimising the false claims of low tar cigarettes, it probably does more harm than good. It should be abandoned as a basis for measurement, regulation, and labelling of tobacco products in the new directive. The test should be kept only for archival continuity and replaced with other approaches (see below) for measuring toxicity.


This should include some or all of the following.

  • Upper limits, and progressive reductions, for concentrations of known carcinogens and other toxins in smoke.

  • A new measure of total toxicity.

  • The ratio of specific carcinogens and other toxins to nicotine. This ratio could be reduced over time.

  • Research should be commissioned to examine the pros and cons of setting an upper limit for nicotine yields. We currently advise …

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