BETHESDA, Md--An expert advisory committee to the President's Cancer Panel believes that the method of testing levels of tar, nicotine(Drug information on nicotine), and carbon monoxide in cigarettes is inadequate, as is the system used by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to inform consumers about these levels and what they mean to the smoker's health.
The panel's recommendations to the FTC included listing a range of levels of these substances directly on cigarette packages, rather than the current method of listing a single value that generally appears in advertising only; educating consumers as to what the numbers mean; and regulating the use of such terms as "light" and "ultralight."
The National Cancer Institute called the meeting in response to a request by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif), then-chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.
Harold P. Freeman, MD, chairman of the President's Cancer Panel and director of surgery at Harlem Hospital Center, chaired the meeting, and panel members included experts on environmental carcinogenesis, human behaviorists, pharmacologists, and epidemiologists, as well as representatives from the tobacco industry.
The FTC began testing the amount of tar and nicotine in cigarettes in 1967, and, in 1980, carbon monoxide levels were added to the standardized machine-based protocol. But problems with the test method (including the reliance on machine testing and changes in cigarette design, composition, and engineering) led public health officials and consumers to question its accuracy.
As a result, in 1983, the FTC announced that it had understated the amounts of these substances in certain cigarettes, and it deleted some brands from its official ranking of brands according to tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide levels.
Eventually, the FTC closed its cigarette testing laboratory because of these accuracy problems and because the testing had become increasingly costly and complex. Since 1987, such testing has been done by the industry-sponsored Tobacco Institute, with FTC oversight.