Letter: 'Safer' cigarettes

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Your report (1 April) about the promotion of low-tar cigarettes by the tobacco industry reminds me of an informal meeting at the Royal College of Physicians 30 or more years ago between members of the committee which had prepared its 1962 report on smoking and health and a group of medical advisers to the industry, at which we were asked to express an opinion about the possible formulation of a safer cigarette.

We refused to commit ourselves to any forecast of the effects of reduction in either tar or nicotine content, pointing out that this could be discovered only by observation, over a number of years, of the incidence of smoking- related diseases in smokers of modified and unmodified cigarettes. We were aware that to commit ourselves to any view would encourage unjustified claims of "safer" cigarettes.

I remember remarking that evidence suggested that the component of tobacco smoke most responsible for the appeal of cigarettes to smokers, nicotine, was one of the least harmful, and so the least harmful cigarettes might well have a high nicotine and a low "tar" content, since smokers of such cigarettes would get their "fix" from fewer cigarettes, and be less exposed to the harmful components of the "tar". I doubt whether there will ever be a study of this possibility; such a study is unlikely to be encouraged by the industry, whose objective is to sell as many cigarettes as possible.


Emeritus Professor of Medicine, National Heart and Lung Institute.

Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire