Safe cigarettes - why the big fuss?

From the UK Times

"BRITISH American Tobacco (BAT) is to launch a controversial “safer cigarette” designed to cut the risk of smoking-related diseases such as cancer and heart failure by up to 90%.

The cigarettes use tobacco treated to produce lower levels of cancer-causing chemicals. They also incorporate a new type of filter said to remove more of the remaining toxins. "

From the reaction one would think they were going to poison the water supply!

If it’s as safe as they say (that’s a big if, I know, but let’s posit that) then isn’t that a good thing? Shoudn’t anti-smoking lobbyists be celebrating such a step forward? Apparently they’re worried that it will encourage more people to smoke. But if it is safe, then what’s the big deal?

In all likelihood some proportion of society will continue to smoke, whatever the risk? Shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to smoke a safer cigarette? Or is it the attitude of the health czars that if they don’t quit altogether, then that’s tough, they were warned.

I really do not see why this development is a bad thing. (And let me repeat, I’m building this argument on the assumption that they really have come up with a safe, or safer, cigarette. All counter-thrusts along the lines of “They told us this was safe, they told us that was safe” are besides the point and matter for a different debate.)

Not knowing much about the proposed cigarette in England, I can only speak in generalities about what I know about similar cigarettes proposed (and brought out) in the US in the past.

The key word is “safer”. This is not a good term to describe the product. This does not mean safe, and in really means “perhaps less dangerous”.

Say one treats the tobacco and adds filters to reduce the danger level by 10%. A good thing, right? But if it turns out that because the consumer public hears the word “safer”, they think “safe”, the number of smokers may go up 20%. Public health has then declined as a result of the introduction of this cigarette.

Also consider that when filters first came out, they were touted as making cigarettes safer. However, decades of research has shown that they do no such thing. Those who smoke filters tend to inhale deeper, and smoke more of them, in order to get the same dose of nicotine. Net result: No health benefit, and possibly some increased risk.

My point in the last paragraph is to say we won’t even know if these so called “safer” cigarettes really are less dangerous. That will take tens of thousands of people smoking them for a few decades to determine. And if it turns out they’re no safer than the old type, or even more dangerous?

Frankly, the only cigarette modification I know of that should be introduced to make the cigarette safer is the one that causes a cigarette to go out if not being actively smoked. This would definitely result in fewer deaths and injuries by reducing the number of fires started by cigarettes.

As for your point about a cigarette that is actually proven safe, the only thing I can say in that matter is that I expect the smoker will still smell bad, and be a nuisance to others as a result. So one could argue that okaying a product to make more people smell bad would be poor public policy.

But that’s about all I’ve got, given that presumption.

I am just unable to posit a truly “safe” cigarette, given the industry’s track record on this sort of thing, and agree with any movement to limit such a product until actual long-term, blinded studies, involving tens of thousands of folks are performed, to demonstrate the safety. Of course, that means marketing it in the third world for a few decades and see how those guys do with it is the probable result.

So pardon me if I don’t trust the industry to tell us their latest cigarette is perfectly safe, doesn’t trigger anyone else’s asthma, leaves no lingering odor on chronic users, and isn’t addicting.

Yes, I take your point about the untrustworthiness of the industry. I’ve rarely seen a shiftier bunch of characters than those tobacco executives who were up before a Senate committee some years ago. I myself gave up smoking some seven or eight years ago after thirty-odd years of addiction.

My partner, however, still smokes and I don’t think she’ll ever quit. Now I’m kinda fond of her and anything that would make her habit safer, in any way whatsoever, would gain my instant approval, even if it only reduced the risk of lung cancer by a few percentage points. And a cigarette that reduced that risk to practically zero would have me cheering to the echo.

OK, it’s an unpleasant, smelly habit, we don’t want to do anything to encourage new smokers, etc. But balance that against the possibility of saving lives which would otherwise be lost, and a few thousand more people with bad breath is a small price to pay.

To recapitulate, no, they’re not the most trustworthy of characters, but if their claims, after rigid scrutiny, turn out to be just then we should all be applauding.

The tobacco industry isn’t thinking of your partner, aldi. They’re not spending millions (billions?) of dollars in research on a “safer” cigarette out of concern for their established customers. They’re doing it because it will be a marketing goldmine as a “gateway” cigarette. It will fool more new smokers into thinking it will be OK to smoke. What are the chances that all of the new smokers, seduced by the “safer” type of cigarette, will graduate to conventional cigarettes?

Besides, as QtM points out, “safer” does not equal “safe.” That’s like marketing a knife that’s 10% shorter, so your victims will be 10% less stabbed.

I guess someone could argue that point if they didn’t mind being laughed out of the discussion.

Theoretically speaking, how safe does something have to be in order to be considered safe? Automobiles are generally thought of as safe but thousands upon thousands are injured or killed in automobile related accidents each year in the United States. If there is a tobacco product that is less prone to causing unpleasant side effects isn’t that a good thing? Are we more concerned for health or more concerned about a behavior a lot of people see as uncouth?


How is this different from most other huge corporations?

The issue then is not that the cigarette is safer, which is good, but that it will be marketed as safer. I think, more or less, that’s lissener’s point and it’s well said. I, for one, am weary of any “advancements” in the common cigarette any way. This is the industry that brought us Kents, the cigarette with the ASBESTOS filter. I believe this might have been marketed as “safer” because of asbestos’s famous heat retardation capabilities. Of course, there was that whole mesothelioma thing…whoops.

I can’t stop thinking of Nick Naylor right now…Vere is ze data?

Why smoke at all? Wouldn’t nicotine-laced gum/ patches/ candy /etc. be a lot safer? Anything producing smoke will never be safe, and it affects others. I don’t care if you want to feed a personal addiction, but do it on your own time and space.

Can someone quantify the risks of smoking, in detail? Furthermore, the methodology.

Most sites stop at gross number of tobacco deaths per year.

Most helpful would be dose-related risks, like…

0 pack-years - lung cancer incidence - x/100,000
1-5 pack-years or less - lung cancer incidence - y/100,000

and so on.

Is there such a thing as organic tobacco cigerettes?

Or would you have to grow and roll your own?

Yep, American Spirit Organic. (Disclaimer: I don’t smoke, have never tried this brand, and have no connection with the company other than googling advertisements for them.)

You can do that too.

A higher proportion of European than American cigarette smokers seem to roll their own cigarettes, but I’ve never met anybody who grows and dries their own tobacco.

I’ve always noticed a general reluctance to hand out study results in any manner or form that would suggest that “a little smoking is only a little harmful”. A recent anti-smoking ad campaign concentrated specifically on the social or occasional smokers who smoke only a few cigarettes a week. “You’re a smoker!” was the message.

Contrast that with a recent Danish study which does indicate that smokers can lessen the risk of lung cancer by cutting down, though quitting completely is still the best option. Also, the risk of emphysema and heart disease didn’t seem to be reduced.

Yeah, the attitude seems to be that the public can’t do risk management well. Smoking is a silent killer, so to speak. As I understand it, and someone please correct me if warranted, even among regular smokers, lung cancer is rare under the age of 45. IOW, suppose you start smoking at 20. Graduate to a pack a day by 25. Even then, in this cohort 20 years later, lung cancer is rare. Which suggests that it takes a combination of continuous bombardment and inherent suspectibility to develop major afflictions. This seems borne out by the lower rates of lung cancer in other countries with lots of smokers, especially Japan. So an accurate assessment would be that long-term smoking has a relatively high but still minority probability of leading to life-threatening diseases. But Public Health needs to put out an unambigious and simple message, without a hint of bipolarity or ambivalence, so the message gets compressed to ‘smoking kills’.

Smoking kills in far more ways than cancer. Hell, most of the deaths I’ve seen from it are from emphysema and heart disease. It’s been clearly demonstrated that overall, the average smoker dies significantly earlier than his non-smoking counterpart chiefly because of those two diseases. Cancer is just icing on the cake, as far as risks of tobacco smoking go.

And “social” or light smokers are the exception rather than the rule. Fewer than 4 in 100 smokers can limit their smoking to under a half a pack a day over their lifetime.

So yes, it is a public health issue. And it is not a “minority probability of leading to life-threatening disease”.

What are the numbers?

I was careful to point out that the Danish study recognized that, and that risk-reduction observed was for cancer only.

This one I find hard to believe, at least in places like New York or California, where fairly stringent smoking bans are already in effect. As difficult as it is to find a place where one is allowed to smoke, how would a light smoker ever work up to a half-pack-a-day habit? I would think that the social pressure against it is too great. On the other hand, if the smoker lives in Las Vegas or Lynchburg, that’d be different.

As a California smoker, there is certainly a comraderie among the outcasts that, for me, trumped the no indoor public smoking laws. Smokers here must move outdoors (not too bad in this state, mind you, unless you count enduring the fake-cough spasms of people 20 feet away). Casual smokers are drawn into this social phenomena (IMHO) as much as they enjoy smoking itself. Personally, I’ve become a more heavy smoker IN California, just because I have good smoking friends, both at my job & outside of it, so there’s a built in excuse to spend 10 minutes outside, embroiled in nice conversation, slowly sucking down nicotine.

And yes I did say enjoying nicotine. Most anti-smoking ads I see seem to treat smoking as something that smokers themselves despise. Personally, I enjoy them.

And American Spirits are indeed free of additives, as I understand it. It’s their big selling point. They also burn slower than a Malboro or a Camel. I see no reason NOT to smoke them.

From the CDC:

It’s in the 5th paragraph of the link. Approximately 60% of smoking mortality was from non-cancerous lung and heart disease, and 40% from lung neoplasms. In the US, that is.

And yes, it is dose-related. Less exposure, less increased risk of disease. But there is no safe dose, as far as we can determine at this time.

Sorry, best I can do for a cite is my recollection of reading this article: Bernaards C.M., Twisk J.W.R., Snel J., Mechelen W. van, Kemper H.C.G. (2001). Is calculating pack-years retrospectively a valid method to estimate life-time tobacco smoking? A comparison between prospectively calculated pack-years and retrospectively calculated pack-years. Addiction, 96, 1653-1662.

In it, IIRC, it reports that after 20+ years of smoking, there are very few smokers in the study who reported smoking less than half a pack a day over the long term.

I tried finding other online sources, but I’ve drawn a blank so far. But remember, we’re talking lifetime smoking here now, not over time periods less than a decade.

Unfortunately, firm numbers about consumption distribution are tough to come by. I did find that the average US smoker consumes between 18 and 24 cigarettes a day during their smoking career.