Tar, Nicotine Numbers On Packs Belie Reality

Smokers of cigarettes supposedly low in tar and nicotine may actually inhale twice as much of those dangerous chemicals as numbers on the packs indicate, says a new study that renews concern about government cigarette testing.

The Federal Trade Commission already warns smokers to be skeptical of the tar and nicotine measurements that tobacco companies derive using a machine-testing method the FTC created 30 years ago.

Researchers in the mid-1990s reported that smokers were inhaling more tar and nicotine than the FTC machine measures, because smokers take more puffs, puff longer and deeper, and cover air vents that are supposed to filter some chemicals from cigarette smoke.

The FTC has been unable to come up with a new, better testing method. The tobacco industry has long contended that every smoker smokes differently anyway.

The latest study, reported in today's issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, analyzed the volume of smoke inhaled by 133 smokers puffing their usual brands of low-nicotine or medium-nicotine cigarettes. Researchers at the American Health Foundation in Valhalla, N.Y., concluded that smokers of low-nicotine cigarettes inhaled 2.5 times more nicotine and 2.6 times more tar than FTC testing indicated they should have. For medium-nicotine cigarettes, smokers inhaled 2.2 times more nicotine and 1.9 times more tar.

A Mixed Report on Women and Smoking

The percentage of American women who said they smoked declined from 1987 to 1996, with more pregnant women also abstaining from cigarettes or at least cutting down, a study released yesterday said.

But in a sign that smoking may not be in full retreat as a public health problem, the proportion of younger women who said they had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lives increased slightly during the study period.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported that 24 percent of women responding to a telephone survey said they smoked in 1996, down from 27 percent in 1987.

Among pregnant women, 12 percent said they smoked in 1996, down from 16 percent in 1987. In addition, the number of cigarettes smoked per day by pregnant women declined to an average of 15 in 1996 from 19 in 1987.

In each year of the study, pregnant women were about half as likely to report being current smokers as non-pregnant women, said the report published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Among women aged 18 to 20, the study found that 27 percent said in 1996 they had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lives, up from 26 percent in 1987. Among all participants, 38 percent said in 1996 that they had smoked at least 100 cigarettes, down from 44 percent in 1987.

Researchers analyzed the responses of 187,302 women aged 18 to 44. Among those, 8,803 said they were pregnant.