Big Tobacco has a knack for hiding things. Some might says it’s a secret society or conspiracy all to itself, but what’s a health risk that’s been overlooked? Everyone knows that cigarettes can kill you—but that the little white filter on the end makes them just a little safer to smoke, right? WRONG. Filtered cigarettes increase cancer risk. Since the introduction of cigarette filters, rates of adenocarcinoma of the lung, the lung cancer most associated with smoking, have dramatically increased among smokers. Men who smoke cigarettes are four times more likely to get this type of lung cancer. Women are eight times more likely. The vast majority of smokers today smoke filtered cigarettes.
“The evidence shows that more modern cigarettes are more risky for lung cancer,” Shields said.
Tobacco companies have used filters as a marketing gimmick since the 1950s in an attempt to market a “safer” cigarette. And sadly this deception is working, not just on adults, but children as well.
Cigarette filters “are perceived by much of the public (especially current smokers) to reduce the health risks of smoking through technology,” reports a study by Thomas Novotny and others in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
But in fact, “filters actually may serve to sustain smoking by making it seem less urgent for smokers to quit and easier for children to initiate smoking because of reduced irritation from early experimentation.”
Closeup view of cigarette filter with fibers hanging off (L) Tar-coated cellulose acetate filter fiber in a smoker’s lung (R) from NY Smoke Free
Most smokers don’t know that those cigarette filters are made of the same plastic as sunglasses—thousands of tiny plastic fibers called cellulose acetate. (They can even be recycled into new plastic products.) That plastic filter is then wrapped in paper perforated with tiny ventilation holes. Those tiny cellulose acetate fibers and ventilation holes pose major life-threatening health risks.
Consumer surveys have shown that “the ingestion or inhalation of cigarette filter fibers are a health concern to nearly all smokers,” according to a Tobacco Control study by J. Pauly and others. The filter fibers are embedded into lungs in a process called “fall-out,” a term coined by Philip Morris, Inc. to mean “loose fibers (or particles) that are drawn out of the filter during puffing of the cigarette,” according the Tobacco Control study.
Philip Morris and other tobacco companies have known about the “fall-out” of cellulose acetate filter fibers since at least the early 1960s, but have done nothing to stop it.
Pauly and colleagues state that “results of the “fall-out” studies are thought to have been withheld as confidential to Philip Morris, Inc.”
The study concludes that, “the filter of today’s cigarette is defective,” and “Philip Morris, Inc. has known of this filter defect for more than 40 years.” What’s more, “the existence of this filter defect has been confirmed by others in independent studies,” but the “results of investigations substantiating defective filters have been concealed from the smoker and the health community.”
But the filter fallacy just gets worse.
Big tobacco claims that the tiny ventilation holes they punch into the paper wrapper surrounding the plastic filter lowers tar intake. But the truth is that tobacco companies base that claim on tests that use “smoking machines,” not real people, giving real smokers the false perception that a filtered cigarette is a healthier cigarette.
Smoking machines. Image from TobaccoTrial
“The use of the ventilation holes yields lower tar only on a machine,” said Dr. Peter D. Shields of Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “Machines have nothing to do with actual exposures in humans. The holes let them actually inhale more smoke with more cancer-causing agents.”
Shields and others recently published a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showing the real truth behind cigarette filters.
“The design of cigarette filters that have ventilation can make the cigarettes even more dangerous, because those holes can change how the tobacco burns, allow smokers to inhale more smoke and to think that the smoke is safer because it is smoother,” said Shields.
Increasing filter ventilation also decreases the size of carcinogens, allowing the dangerous chemicals to penetrate deep into the lung. And the risk isn’t just present in light cigarettes. “This applies to all cigarettes, because almost all the cigarettes on the market have the holes, not just the ones that used to be called lights and ultra-lights,” he noted.
The holes are there because “….scientists realized that any material that effectively trapped particles also weakened the cigarette’s kick.” To pull in fresh air and bring back the kick, they perforated the paper wrapper that surrounds the plastic filter “from end to end by a constellation of tiny holes. But studies have shown that smokers now drag harder to compensate,” according to Stanford professor Robert N. Proctor.
Should we be surprised that Big Tobacco, who once put asbestos and antifreeze into cigarette filters to “take the FEAR out of smoking” is hiding yet another massive health risk? As if cigarettes weren’t bad enough on their own…It’s time to demand that tobacco companies get rid of the filter once and for all. At least then, smokers won’t be deceived by Big Tobacco’s deadly marketing gimmick to sell more smokes. Until then smokers, roll your own—and skip the filter.
Source: Reuters, J Natl Cancer Inst, New York Times Magazine, Tobacco Control