Some brands of cigarettes have 60 times as much tar, 46 times as much carbon monoxide and 40 times as much nicotine as other brands, according to the latest tests by the Federal Trade Commission.
Those with the highest levels are Bull Durham, Herbert Tareyton and English Ovals. At the other extreme are Now king-size filters, Carlton king size, Now 100's, Cambridge king-size filter, Carlton 100's, Carlton menthol and Barclay king-size filters.
At least that is how the government tests turned out, and that is how the cigarette companies have been advertising their products to the American consumer.
But questions about the testing--and subsequently the advertising--have been raised because of certain tobacco industry manufacturing and marketing techniques.
In a pending court case, the FTC claims Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. found a way to make a filter that in effect tricks the smoking machine used to measure the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels.
The machine, after smoking samples of Brown & Williamson's Barclay king-size filter cigarettes, for example, concluded they contained one milligram of tar per cigarette. But the FTC, after further study, decided the Barclay cigarette actually should be rated at between three and seven milligrams.
The agency also decided the ratings for two other Brown & Williamson brands--Kool Ultra and Kool Ultra 100s--probably are higher than the machine ratings show.
Last June, the FTC told Brown & Williamson to stop using the government test results to substantiate its advertising claim that a Barclay cigarette contains only one milligram of tar. Agency officials also announced plans to ask for public comment on ways to modify tests to get more accurate results.
Brown & Williamson immediately filed suit and obtained a temporary restraining order blocking the FTC actions. The order also blocked both sides from discussing the case, which is before an appeals court.
But a recent issue of Consumer Reports magazine detailed the dispute.
In addition, Advertising Age, a trade publication, has written about the controversy. One article quoted a "top tobacco executive" as saying:
"Every company in the cigarette business knew how to make a product that would fool the FTC machine. None of us had the nerve to take the chance B&W has taken. So far, the Barclay filter has been a very successful marketing tool."
Meantime, Brown & Williamson, while opposing the FTC on the Barclay issue, has sought the agency's help in another case involving its competitors' marketing tactics.
In a complaint filed last year with the FTC, Brown & Williamson said the manufacturers of Carlton, Cambridge and Now cigarettes have been promoting their cigarettes as ultra-low tar but generally making available cigarettes that have higher amounts of tar.
Here's how that worked, according to the complaint:
Ads for Carlton boasted that its tar content was "lowest of all brands" and that "U.S. government laboratory tests confirm no cigarette lower in tar than Carlton."
And, in fact, that was true--for one of the eight varieties of Carlton. The one with the lowest tar is the 85-millimeter-long Carlton, which has less than one milligram of tar. The other seven Carltons contain much higher levels of tar. Two of them, for example, have six milligrams of tar.
Brown & Williamson claimed in its complaint to the FTC that American Brands, which makes Carlton, was using bait-and-switch practices--baiting smokers with the low-tar claim in its ads and then making available through its sales operation the Carltons with the higher-tar content that tend to be easier to light and draw.
The result, the complaint alleged, was that smokers were buying the higher-tar Carltons with the idea they were getting the low-tar Carlton. American Brands has denied any deception was involved in its advertising.
FTC officials declined to comment on the status of the complaint.
A free copy of the latest test results of the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide content of 208 varieties of cigarettes tested by the FTC can be obtained by writing Public Reference, Federal Trade Commission, Room 130, Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., 20580. The telephone number is 523-3598. Ask for the March 1983 cigarette report.