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People who smoke remain in the dark about tobacco product manipulation

Posted 3 Oct, 2022

Many people who smoke are unaware of the various ways in which their tobacco products are modified to make the harsh smoke easier to inhale, according to new research released today by Quit Victoria.

The findings, from the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at Cancer Council Victoria, reveal that most people who smoke (73%) are not aware that tobacco companies mix in additives that hide the harshness of the smoke.

Furthermore, almost half of people who smoke rollies (42%) do not know that roll-your-own tobacco contains additives, and around half of those who smoke tailor-made cigarettes (43%) are unaware that tobacco companies add tiny holes around cigarette filters to make the smoke feel less harsh. This matters because 36% of people who smoke mistakenly believe smoke that feels less harsh is also less harmful.

These findings were used to inform the new Quit campaign launching today. The con that kills is aimed at highlighting how tobacco products are manipulated to make the smoke easier to inhale. 

Director of Quit, Dr Sarah White, said despite the devastating health impacts of smoking, the tobacco industry continues to employ a spectrum of techniques to attract new customers.

“If you inhaled the smoke from raw tobacco, you would feel the severe harshness of the hundreds of harmful chemicals created when it is burned. Tobacco companies use additives and modifications that hide these sensations. It’s a con.”

“No matter how the tobacco looks, feels or tastes, you are still inhaling hundreds of toxins.  All tobacco products are doing you damage, and the only way to escape the con is to quit smoking,” said Dr White.

Dr White said it was particularly concerning that these manipulations make it easier for people to begin smoking.

“These manipulations can make it easier for young people to start smoking and to become addicted and current smokers to continue using these dangerous products.”

CEO of VicHealth, Dr Sandro Demaio, said the industry manipulation to mislead needs to be exposed.

“The idea that any tobacco product offers reduced harm is simply an illusion – but an illusion with deadly consequences for individuals and whole communities.”

“People who are still smoking need to be made aware that tobacco companies add masking agents to the tobacco in cigarettes, which hides the true harshness of the smoke, so you don’t actually feel the damage it’s doing,” said Dr Demaio.

“The tobacco industry’s primary concern remains their bottom line. By shining a light on this unfair con, we can empower people with the truth, and support them to quit smoking.”

CEO of Cancer Council Victoria, Mr Todd Harper, said it was important that tobacco control campaigns and policy reforms remained a public health priority, given tobacco use remains Australia’s single most preventable cause of death.

“This is a product that, when used as directed by its manufacturers, will kill two out of three lifetime users but smoking is only bearable because of the various way tobacco products are modified to make the toxic smoke less harsh and easier to inhale.”

Mr Harper said that the tobacco industry con of product manipulation was especially disappointing considering the vast majority of Victorian smokers did not want to continue smoking.

“We should be doing everything we can as a community to help people who smoke quit, but instead we see products being manipulated by the industry and this makes it easier for people who smoke to continue using these dangerous products.”

The con that kills campaign, will run in Victoria from 2nd October until 12th November 2022 featuring a 30-second advertisement on television and across digital platforms.

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Research Notes:

  • In a study conducted by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer in 2021, smokers were asked to select statements they believed provided a correct description of how tobacco products are modified. Of 132 current smokers, 72.7% failed to select the statement “Additives reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke”. Of 43 roll-your-own smokers, 41.9% failed to select the statement, “Roll-your-own tobacco contains additives”.

  • In an online population survey of 999 current smokers conducted by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer in 2019, 872 smokers of tailor-made cigarettes were asked whether they know that some tailor-made cigarettes have tiny holes around the filter. Almost half (46.4%) indicated that they did not know this. Furthermore, when asked about their knowledge of the various factors that contribute to making the smoke from some tailor-made cigarettes feel lighter and smoother than others, 42.6% did not agree that “tiny holes in the filter” contributes to making smoke feel lighter and smoother. In this same study, 36.2% of all current smokers indicated they believe that smoke that feels smooth is less damaging to health than smoke that feels harsh. This is consistent with previous research that has demonstrated an association between the perceived smoothness of cigarette smoke and perceptions of harm.

  • These studies received funding from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council as part of a program of research on smokers’ beliefs about tobacco products.

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