Manufacturers use chemical additives to mask environmental tobacco smoke

September 11, 2000

How cigarette additives are used to mask environmental tobacco smoke 2000; 9: 283-91

Cigarette manufacturers use a range of chemical additives to reduce the odour and visibility of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), internal industry documents indicate.

A trawl of the US Patent and Trademark Office online database and four US tobacco manufacturers' websites, the results of which are published in Tobacco Control, reveals little or no evidence that the manufacturers sought to reduce the harmful effects of ETS. Rather, their efforts appear to have been for cosmetic purposes and a marketing ploy to counter adverse publicity and the perceived social unacceptability of ETS.

Involuntary exposure to ETS is estimated to kill 3000 people in the USA every year, and to be an important risk factor for coronary heart disease and respiratory illness in children.

The documents show that the industry conducted extensive consumer research to find out if cigarettes producing less visible smoke and odour would reduce concerns about exposure and make smoking in public more socially acceptable to both smokers and non-smokers. One of the manufacturers, RJ Reynolds, wanted to target young women in particular, for whom the cosmetic issues of stale odour on clothes and hair were considered to be especially important. Philip Morris developed the concept of an ultra slim cigarette that would be marketed as a "diet smoke" product because of its low tar and sidestream smoke constituents.

The documents reveal little evidence of testing for the impact of additives on mainstream or sidestream smoke content or toxicity. This is important, say the study authors, because individual levels of a carcinogenic substance referred to as TSNA can be more than 20 times higher in sidestream than in mainstream smoke, and could be increased if additives reduce the burn temperature of the cigarette cone.

US manufacturers are required by law to list comprehensively all the additives used in the cigarette rod, but they are not required to report substances that are added to the wrapper paper or filter, nor the quantities or additives used by individual brand. And many of the industry documents disclosed during litigation may not be available to public health officials because they are protected as trade secrets. Appropriate regulation of tobacco additives is a serious matter of public health and should be addressed, conclude the authors.

Dr Gregory Connolly, Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, Department of Public Health, Boston, USA.

BMJ Specialty Journals

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