A Safer Cigarette Does Not Equal a Safe Cigarette

Choosing not to smoke cigarettes is obviously a healthier decision than choosing to smoke cigarettes. But if you can’t quite kick the habit, is smoking “safer” cigarettes a step toward cessation? At the 11th World Conference on Tobacco and Health, held Aug. 6 to 11, tobacco control advocates voiced concern that the availability of safer cigarettes might hinder efforts to reduce and prevent smoking.

In the wake of accelerating litigation damages, some tobacco industry members have announced plans to market a safer cigarette containing reduced levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). TSNAs are considered among the most carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco and cigarette smoke. But the promotion of a safer cigarette might actually encourage smoking. For example, consumers might believe that because the nitrosamines are reduced that cigarettes are now harmless. Furthermore, there is concern about the type of message being sent to youth when smokers are encouraged to use safer cigarettes rather than being encouraged to quit.

“Safer,” however, doesn’t mean safe. There are hundreds of harmful chemicals present in cigarette smoke and even the tobacco companies still don’t know whether removing certain chemicals from cigarette smoke will make them any less harmful.

“Maybe there are less nitrosamines, but what about all the other things in cigarettes that can kill you?” asked Ron Thompson of the American Cancer Society in a news report last October.

Public health goals include getting people to quit smoking and preventing minors from starting the habit. Since there is no scientific basis that cigarettes with lower nitrosamine levels reduce health risks, cessation should be emphasized.

“The safest way to avoid the health consequences associated with smoking cigarettes, such as emphysema, heart disease and lung cancer, is to quit tobacco entirely,” said Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health. “Promoting cigarettes with lower levels of nitrosamines as ‘safer,’ when the health consequences are unknown, is a disservice to the public.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tobacco Information and Prevention Source recognizes that there is not only a physical dependence on nicotine, but also a behavioral dependence involved with the act of smoking. Quitting is difficult, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

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