What's Fraud for Big Tobacco Is Regulation for Big Government


A new article in the journal Tobacco Control details the difficulties in using machines to predict the levels of toxins and carcinogens to which a given person will be exposed when he smokes a particular brand of cigarette. Smoking machines are used to produce the misleadingly precise tar and nicotine "yields" on cigarette packages, which may have little or no relationship to the health hazards associated with a given brand. The main problem (as I've mentioned before) is that people, unlike machines, engage in "compensatory behavior" to achieve the dose of nicotine to which they're accustomed. They adjust the number of puffs and the degree of inhalation to compensate for changes in the nicotine content of the smoke. They also tend to cover the filter ventilation holes that help cigarette manufacturers achieve lower tar and nicotine ratings. The authors of the Tobacco Control article note that the standard method of generating these numbers, which uses puffing parameters that "systematically underestimate smoking behaviour in humans," is "widely recognised to be inadequate." They consider four alternative standards, all of which involve more-intense smoking, and conclude that they would not be significantly more reliable in predicting actual human exposure.

Two other approaches discussed in the article look more promising. One is to measure the amount of a given toxin or carcinogen per milligram of nicotine. Unfortunately, this ratio is not constant for any given brand; it varies with the intensity of smoking, which in turn varies across smokers, depending on the level of nicotine they like. Complicating things further, there are many potentially dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, and their levels may move in different directions when cigarette design or smoking behavior changes. Still, for some of these chemicals, there are large differences in levels per milligram of nicotine across brands that probably do translate into differences in actual exposure.

The other approach that tries to take compensatory behavior into account uses a machine protocol designed to achieve a particular dose of nicotine regardless of a cigarette's design. Differences in toxin yields across brands measured by this method presumably would signify differences in actual exposure, at least at a given level of nicotine intake. Such measurements would be far from perfect, but they would be a more reliable guide than the current numbers. Even if a better method of predicting exposure to particular smoke constituents can be found, there remains the question of how changes in levels of specific toxins affect disease risk.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty surrounding these numbers not only casts doubt on the tobacco companies' marketing of "low-yield" cigarettes as a supposedly safer alternative to regular cigarettes. As Michael Siegel notes on his tobacco policy blog, it also highlights the silliness of complaining about a slight increase in the machine-measured nicotine yields of major cigarette brands that may or may not have occurred in recent years. More important, it reveals the irrationality of existing and proposed government regulations. It is the federal government, after all, that requires cigarette companies to advertise the misleading yield numbers. And as Siegel points out, a bill that would give the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco, backed by Philip Morris as well as leading anti-smoking groups, would extend the use of questionable yield numbers and add to their perceived credibility. Under the bill, the FDA would have the authority to set maximum levels for specific components of tobacco smoke, based on the same sort of machine-generated numbers that public health officials and anti-smoking activists roundly condemn as not only inaccurate but fraudulent.

"This whole thing is a huge hoax in the making," Siegel writes. "It has the potential to institutionalize the fraud that the tobacco companies have committed, but to put it into the hands of our own government." He also argues (as I have) that the regulatory regime created by the bill would make it virtually impossible to introduce genuinely safer tobacco products. "Ultimately," he says, "there's only one way that I think even has the potential to be successful in developing safer cigarettes or other tobacco products. And that's to allow the free market system to work. Free market competition could, possibly, result in a race to see which company could come up with safer products." To make that possible, the government would have to stop requiring misleading product comparisons, permit the introduction of new products without pharmaceutical-style regulatory review, and allow companies to make truthful statements about the potential health advantages of those products, holding them liable for fraud but not for the voluntary choices of informed consumers.  

NEXT: Bob Barr and the Libertarians

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  1. Jacob, didn’t you once take money from the tobacco companies? I believe you did.

  2. I was just thinking last night about how screwed up it is that you need a perscription to get the nicotine patch. Because, you know, it’s a way of delivering nicotine. Which always requires a perscription.

  3. What, tobacco companies tried to engineer around the testing?

    Sounds like NASCAR.

  4. Or one could stop using cigarettes and use Swedish snus, which has a more potent nicotine kick along with something like 1/50th of the cancer causing chemicals (TSNA) in cigarettes.

  5. I was just thinking last night about how screwed up it is that you need a perscription to get the nicotine patch.

    Dude, you can get them over the counter. They’ve been available over the counter for years.

  6. Jeff said,

    Jacob, didn’t you once take money from the tobacco companies? I believe you did.

    It would be nice if you could back up your accusation with a link. Were you referring to this (see the end of the piece):

    …Philip Morris paid Sullum $5,000 for the right to reprint one of his articles [skeptical of anti-smoking activists’ claims] as a five-day series of full-page ads in newspapers throughout the country… The ads appeared under the headline, “If We Said It, You Might Not Believe It.”

    I have a hard time seeing this as problematic. The tobacco companies appreciated something Sullum had already written for a different forum, and paid him (as they should have) for the right to reprint it.

    If not this, what’s your claim?

  7. Once again, I’m too slow in a thread. I was wondering why snus wasn’t brought up in this article, but Bubba Z managed to mention it nice and early.

    I guess snus is too much like “safe sex” for the Victorian government we’ve been living under for the past 30-odd years: if it makes you feel good, but there are no adverse effects, it must be banned by the Federalis.

  8. Never mind the fact that the word snus is only one typo from anus, and who wants to put THAT in their mouth?

  9. Or one could stop using cigarettes and use Swedish snus, which has a more potent nicotine kick along with something like 1/50th of the cancer causing chemicals (TSNA) in cigarettes.

    Can you elaborate?

    – R

  10. Jacob, do you smoke? I have seen you post several times that people will “engage in ‘compensatory behavior’ to achieve the dose of nicotine to which they’re accustomed.” I do smoke, and when I went from Filters to Lights, at first I did smoke more, but after a week or so, I dropped down to my old pack a day. Same when I went from Lights to Ultralights, at first I smoked more, and after a couple of days, back down to a pack a day. There is more than physical addiction that plays into how often a person smokes. I think that habit plays a much bigger role. For someone like me, if nicotine levels go up in cigarettes, I will end up getting more nicotine, etc.
    I travel on buisness very often. That is why I switched from Lights to Ultralights, to keep the nic-fits to a minimum on those 15 hour flights to Japan. There is something to be said for lower doses of nicotine making it easier to quit, or, at least, stop smoking for a while, so you can start working on the habit aspect of it.

  11. Timothy-

    My bad. I thought those “ask your doctor about” ads meant it was perscription only.

  12. jf-

    “Never mind the fact that the word snus is only one typo from anus, and who wants to put THAT in their mouth?”

    I’m sure a quick search on google would bring many thousands of answers to your question.

  13. justsomeguy: The compensatory behavior is not limited to smoking more (or fewer) cigarettes. It also has to do with the number of puffs taken per cigarette, how deeply the smoke is inhaled, and how long it’s held, all of which affect nicotine delivery. There is also the issue of the tiny ventilation holes on the filter, which dilute the smoke when cigarettes are consumed by machines but may be(consciously or unconsciously) covered up by people when they smoke. Studies that measure cotinine (a nicotine metabolite) in saliva find that switching to “low-yield” cigarettes has much less effect on the amount of nicotine smokers actually absorb than you would expect based on the official ratings. One review of the literature (see below) found “an average compensation of 50-60% of the nicotine yield.” Compensation is not perfect or universal, but it’s clear the numbers on the labels are not reliable indicators of what smokers are actually getting.

    See, e.g.:

    And no, I don’t smoke cigarettes, though I do smoke a pipe and cigars from time to time.

  14. Jeff said: “Jacob, didn’t you once take money from the tobacco companies?”

    It’s ironic that anyone would use that ploy in an article which quotes Dr Michael Siegel, since Dr Siegel – a twenty year veteran of tobacco control – was the person who revealed that anti-smoking activists are trained to duck substantive discussion by slinging such mud.

    Dr Siegel says: “In the 20 years that I was a member of the tobacco control movement, I was led to believe that there were only two sides to any anti-smoking issue: our side and the tobacco industry side. Therefore, anyone who disagreed with our position had to be, in some way, affiliated with the tobacco industry. I was also taught to respond to their arguments not on any scientific grounds or on the merit of their arguments, but by simply discrediting the person by attacking their affiliation with the tobacco companies”

  15. Speaking of regulation:

    Secondhand smoke should be regulated not banned

    The nationwide trend of implementing a ban on secondhand smoke is justified, say activists, to protect the health of workers.

    The hypocrisy and inconsistency however, is that every other workplace air quality issue is regulated by OSHA standards, rather than banned. And since smoking bans destroy hospitality businesses in record numbers , air quality regulation is a less destructive method to safeguard the health and welfare of employees and patrons.

    Whether it be welding or plasma smoke exposure in factories, diesel smoke exhaust in tunnels or on truck loading docks, ozone produced from copying machines in offices, etc. OSHA regulates all these air quality issues to safeguard the health and safety of employees in all workplaces. So why be inconsistent regarding secondhand smoke which is far less hazardous than welding or plasma smoke for example?

    Regarding the claim, by pharmaceutical nicotine funded interests , that OSHA doesn’t have a permissible exposure limit for secondhand smoke components, the OSHA table is linked below for your research:

    In the OSHA table you’ll find a safe permissible exposure limit for thousands of individual components, pick the individual component you want to measure in secondhand smoke, and there is an OSHA safe limit for it. OSHA permissible exposure limits are the safe level of exposure for an 8 hour day / 40 hour per week time period.

    Some OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) examples of components in secondhand smoke:

    Nicotine safe level of exposure (PEL) is 0.5 mg per cubic meter
    arsenic safe level of exposure (PEL) is 0.3 mg per cu. meter
    benzene safe level of exposure (PEL) is 10 parts per million (ppm)
    formaldehyde safe level of exposure (PEL) is 0.75 ppm
    acetone safe level of exposure (PEL) is 2400 mg per cu. meter
    etc. etc.

    The method above is how OSHA regulates employee exposure to welding smoke as well, there is no OSHA permissible limit for “welding smoke”, secondhand smoke, wood smoke, or any other composite pollutant of two or more chemicals. OSHA is much more scientific and precise than that……each chemical component of an indoor air pollution source must be measured independently to determine if a health hazard exists.

    Arbitrarily declaring that secondhand smoke is a health hazard without conducting any air quality testing is simply a matter of opinion with no basis in science or fact. If we start passing laws based on flawed data we get flawed laws, laws which when finally scrutinized under the microscope of science cannot and will not hold up to a challenge.

    Lawmakers need to stop following the herd of fear-mongering states that have gone before. Policy makers need to declare that we have a more competent science based community that has conducted air quality testing, and instead of falling for the rhetoric of 16 other states who tell us all that the earth is flat…….we will conduct scientific air quality analysis to determine the facts. Which is a much more preferred method of implementing laws as opposed to giving credence only to partisan funded special interest groups.

    Smoking bans: good public policy? Or simply a great pharmaceutical marketing plan?

    To the average non-smoker as I am, it might appear that the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Non-Smoker’s Rights, the American Medical Association, countless research Universities around the country, etc. are lobbying our politicians for smoking bans for health reasons.

    However, upon some preliminary investigation it is clear that these NGO’s are backed by $200,000,000.00 + from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) which has direct ties to the Johnson & Johnson Company, and J & J is the manufacturer of Nicoderm & Nicoderm CQ via its wholly owned subsidiary ALZA. Recently, the buyout of Pfizer means J & J profits even more from the passage of smoking bans thru additional sales of Nicotrol and the new smoking cessation drug Chantix.

    The data supplied to these NGO’s and subsequently our politicians should be viewed as highly dubious at best, since it comes from the largest manufacturer of pharmaceutical nicotine products which benefits by selling their alternative nicotine products like Nicoderm, Nicoderm CQ, Nicotrol, etc. when tobacco nicotine use is prohibited via smoking bans.

    In fact according to this industry watchdog pharmaceutical nicotine product sales is a $500,000,000.00+ annual business almost exclusively owned by the Johnson & Johnson conglomerate, of which RWJF is an entity and single largest shareholder of J & J stock, with a $5.4 billion dollar holding.

    For whatever reason our local lawmakers seem to ignore the conflict of interest, if they know about it at all. I am curious if some of these local lawmakers receive campaign support from any or all of these special interests……..Are local media outlets, or attorneys general interested in investigating? We’ll see.

    Here are some links to financial grants from the Nicoderm people at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to:

    Recipient: American Medical Assoc. $88,000,000.00

    Recipient: American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association $99,000,000.00

    Recipient: numerous research universities around the country

    RWJF ties to the Johnson & Johnson Company:

    ALZA is the company which manufactures Nicoderm & Nicoderm CQ for GSK:

    ALZA is owned by Johnson & Johnson company

    Why would a pharmaceutical company fund smoking bans?

    Government air quality testing of secondhand smoke (is secondhand smoke really harmful?):

    The American Cancer Society air quality testing proves secondhand smoke is up to 25,000 times safer than OSHA indoor air quality regulations for secondhand smoke:

    In this special report out of Washington DC by the Center for Public Integrity, we’ve found an interesting bit of information:

    …the pharmaceutical industry has mounted a sophisticated grassroots campaign to build support for its position on key issues that affect its bottom line. The industry has funded various groups to champion its positions, sponsored studies tilted to the industry and hired public relations firms to spearhead campaigns to soften up public opinion and government policies….

    Update: Here are a number of grants by Nicoderm financed Robert Wood Johnson Foundation used to influence government policymakers and lawmakers…….and as you guessed it, that lobbying is designed to eliminate tobacco nicotine use…….while increasing pharmaceutical nicotine use……a public policy also known as smoking bans.

    Update: This posting can also be found at the Heartland Institute.

    Meanwhile science and air quality testing prove that the secondhand smoke hype has been greatly exaggerated:

  16. For every dollar that is contributed at , you can be certain that the Alaskan effort to repeal the smoking ban will be that much closer to success. (Success requires media presence, and printing.) The money will pay for a door-to-door effort and election day effort to walk the districts of the sponsors and supporters of the ban, and replace them with libertarians. (Or at least cause the sponsors to lose reelection). Successful campaigns cost money, and we have not gotten a single cent from “Big Tobacco” they’d rather lose statewide efforts in Arizona for 20 times the money it would take to head the anti-smoking nazis off at the pass in AK. Oh well.

    We successfully put the initiative on the April 3rd municipal election ballot, and we’ll do it alone if we have to. It would just be nice not to have to bankrupt ourselves in the process. Moreover, all of the people doing the work are libertarians, and this has translated into a lot of positive press for the Alaska Libertarian Party.

    The next issue we’re going to tackle, in order to show Alaska’s conservative voting base that we are on their side is a legal attack on eminent domain. This is intelligent libertarian politics at its best. Ideally, if you’re on this site, you will want to contribute to the growing Alaskan liberty movement at or at:

    Money provides us a way to generate constructive memes that disable socialist memes. Without it, success is more difficult.

    Moreover, we are currently suing the city for election interference, if they do not apologize and meet our demands to reword the initiative’s “description”. Since they’ve violated many of their own laws and guidelines with their language, we will win. However, their strategy (now that their fear factor has kicked in), is of course, to try to waste time, and waste our money on legal fees that could have bought media time.

    A victory for our team will be a mighty nice feather in our cap.

    -Jake Witmer

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