If you can bear to look, you’ll soon see the smoke cleared around another of the tobacco industry’s dirty little secrets.
Philip Morris plans to use a leaflet, tucked into cigarette packages, to issue this warning: Those “light” or “ultra-light” cigarettes you’ve been smoking are just as dangerous as regular cigarettes.
The company, now suddenly concerned with good citizenship as its fortunes increasingly are found at the mercy of the courts, is dropping the leaflets into cigarette packages voluntarily, and temporarily. It expects the leaflets to fall into the hands of 86 percent of smokers who use those “light” products.
A more cynical reading might suggest that the company is wary of initiatives by public-health officials to ban the use of “light” and “low-tar” labels when marketing cigarettes.
Indeed, that would seem to be the better option.
Cigarettes are cruelly addictive, and hapless smokers caught in their web are easily susceptible to marketing ploys that lead them to think that their self-inflicted damage is somehow tempered.
Smokers hoping to quit are among those most likely to smoke “light” cigarettes, perhaps thinking that the quitting will be easier if their smokes are less robust.
They have been disillusioned.
A study by the National Cancer Institute found no benefit to public health from changes in cigarette design and manufacturing over the past 50 years. That study found that those who smoke “light” or “low-tar” cigarettes are likely to inhale the same amount of cancer-causing toxins as smokers of regular cigarettes.
Philip Morris doesn’t dispute that, and in fact points visitors to its Web site to the National Cancer Institute study.
Philip Morris warns that, “as of today, there is no cigarette on the market which the public health community endorses as offering ‘reduced risk.’ ”
So why continue the language charade? A cigarette by whatever name is lethal. Throwing adjectives such as “light” into cigarette names is more than misleading; it’s a deception that offers smokers false hope that their habit is not as destructive as it really is. Many have carried that hope to their graves.
It’s unconscionable that such marketing is allowed to continue.