Additive-free cigarettes may pack a more toxic tobacco punch

December 03, 2002

Despite perceptions that additive-free cigarettes and the hand-rolled cigarettes from India called bidis may provide a less-toxic smoke than conventional cigarettes, new research suggests the opposite may be true.

Study results published in the December issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research examine several physiological and subjective factors among regular smokers who were asked to smoke both bidis and additive-free American Spirit cigarettes in a controlled test.

"Recently, there has been an increase in the use of alternative cigarettes such as bidis, cloves and additive-free cigarettes by adolescents," said lead researcher Wallace Pickworth of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. "In the Boston area, for example, 40 percent of teenagers had smoked bidis at least once in their lifetime and 16 percent were current bidi smokers. About 13 percent of the sample thought bidis were safer than conventional cigarettes."

Aside from perceptions that they are a lesser health risk than conventional cigarettes, bidis may also be popular with adolescents because they are manufactured in a variety of flavors, such as chocolate or root beer. Bidis are also generally less expensive than cigarettes and easier for youths to purchase, Pickworth said.

For the study, Pickworth and his team asked 10 research volunteers -- 24.5 years old on average and considered "healthy smokers" -- to smoke an unfiltered, additive-free American Spirit cigarette, a strawberry-flavored bidi, a non-flavored bidi and one of the participants' own preferred brands of conventional cigarette.

During each session, the researchers measured participants' plasma nicotine and exhaled carbon monoxide. Researchers also recorded the length of time participants took to smoke a cigarette or bidi, and the number of puffs. After smoking, participants completed questionnaires about each product.

Results showed that two minutes after smoking the unfiltered, additive-free American Spirit cigarette or either type of bidi, participants' plasma nicotine levels were significantly higher than when they smoked their own cigarettes. The high nicotine levels lasted longest with the American Spirit cigarette.

Measured levels of exhaled carbon monoxide were less consistent. Researchers measured these levels 15 minutes after participants finished smoking each sample. Exhaled carbon monoxide levels dropped below those of the participants' own cigarette brands 15 minutes after smoking the American Spirit cigarette and the unflavored bidi. The strawberry-flavored bidi, however, left participants exhaling higher amounts of carbon monoxide than with their preferred brands.

"Data from this study were collected in a single exposure to alternative cigarettes in a laboratory environment," Pickworth granted. "The sample size was small, predominantly male and restricted to those over 18 years of age, and included only occasional bidi smokers. These characteristics may have influenced smoking patterns and subjective estimates and may limit the generalizability of the results.

"Nevertheless," he adds, "the results indicate that, contrary to the belief of many consumers, bidi and additive-free cigarettes deliver substantial amounts of nicotine and other toxic components of tobacco smoke."

This research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
-end-
BY WILL O'BRYAN, STAFF WRITER
HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.
For interviews: Contact Wallace Pickworth at (410) 550-1498 or wpickwo@intra.nida.nih.gov.
Nicotine & Tobacco Research: Contact Gary E. Swan, Ph.D., at (650) 859-5322.

Center for Advancing Health

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