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Study: 'Safer' Cigarettes May Be All Smoke

Nov 27, 2002 | Healthsouth They're sold by big tobacco companies and go by names like Advance, Eclipse and Accord.

They're marketed as safer cigarettes that can lessen the risks of smoking by releasing fewer cancer-causing substances.

But two new studies show these so-called safer cigarettes may not be safer at all and may even lead to increased addiction.

In the first study, researchers invited 20 smokers in the lab and, over three days, had them puff on their own brand of cigarettes, then an Advance cigarette, now sold by Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., and also an unlit cigarette for comparison.

Advance cigarettes are marketed as a safer cigarette because they supposedly contain less of a type of cancer-causing substance called nitrosamines, said Thomas Eissenberg, an associate professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and lead author of both studies.

The Advance study, which did not look at nitrosamine levels, found the cigarette produced 11 percent less carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide has been linked to cardiovascular disease in smokers, Eissenberg said.

But Advance also delivered 25 percent more nicotine into the blood than the smokers' own brands. Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes.

"We don't know for sure if it causes increased dependence, but certainly many smokers would like to know if they're being exposed to more nicotine," Eissenberg said.

A spokesman for Brown & Williamson responded that the researchers had looked at an early version of Advance cigarette made by a different company.

"The nicotine levels they are reporting are not correct," spokesman Marc Smith said. "They are looking at a product that is not on the market today. The product being sold today has much lower nicotine levels ..." He did not say what the nicotine levels were.

The study appears in the December issue of the journal Tobacco Control.

In a second study, published in the December issue of Harm Reduction, Eissenberg and his colleagues conducted a similar experiment with Accord cigarettes, made by Philip Morris Co. Inc., and Eclipse, made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co..

Both cigarettes heat rather than burn tobacco, presumably reducing carcinogen levels.

Researchers didn't look at carcinogen levels, but they did look at nicotine, carbon monoxide and the effects on smokers' heart rate.

On the plus side, they found Accord delivered significantly less nicotine and boosted smokers' heart rate and carbon monoxide levels less than traditional cigarettes.

But Accord didn't do as well as traditional cigarettes in suppressing cravings or reducing such withdrawal symptoms as anxiety, restlessness and irritability, they found.

If Accord fails to give smokers the same satisfaction they get from smoking their regular brand, they may simply smoke more, which would defeat the purpose of safer cigarettes, Eissenberg said.

Eclipse, on the other hand, increased heart rate and suppressed withdrawal symptoms about as well as conventional cigarettes. However, Eclipse delivered about 30 percent more carbon monoxide than regular cigarettes, Eissenberg said.

"Based on our evaluation, all three alternative cigarettes appear to reduce some toxins that are associated with smoking-related diseases," Eissenberg said. "But our testing also revealed that Eclipse and Advance may increase levels of dangerous substances produced by these cigarettes that smokers should be aware of."

A spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds said the 30 percent increase in carbon monoxide (CO) cited in the study is not correct.

"The CO claim mentioned in the study is contrary to what we have found during our extensive investigations. Under FTC machine-smoking puffing conditions, the 'tar' and nicotine yields for Eclipse are in the range of ultra-low-'tar' cigarettes, while the CO yield is in the low-'tar' range," said Carole Crosslin.

The company's extensive studies, she added, "have found that, on average, there is about a 10 percent increase in COhB in smokers switching to Eclipse from their usual brand."

However, Patrick Reynolds, founder of the Foundation for a Smokefree America, called the research an important step in debunking claims of safe cigarettes.

"There is an array of tobacco products on the market all claiming to varying degrees to be safer," said Reynolds, the grandson of R.J. Reynolds and the son of a man who died of smoking-related disease. "It will be decades before we have the medical data and studies in about whether these products are substantially safer."

Even if a product delivers less carbon monoxide or carcinogens, he added, it is still unknown what amount causes an individual smoker to get cancer or heart disease.

"Whether the products are one percent safer or 15 percent safer, we really don't have any clue," Reynolds said. "The big danger is that many smokers may believes these products are far safer than they really are and will justify their continued smoking based on that."

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