Blowing smoke

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In the launch announcement for "less toxic" Advance cigarettes, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. quotes Sharon Boyse, its director of applied research. She says, "While there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, the fact that Advance Lights contain less toxins, while still providing a smooth, satisfying taste for smokers, is an important step in the right direction." But it's a misstep-unless B&W commits to backing up its claim through research.

Advance, along with Vector Group's Omni, represent a potentially burgeoning category of next-generation cigarettes that purport to be less harmful than conventional smokes. Philip Morris USA is developing "a conventional cigarette with a significant reduction in potentially harmful smoke constituents," while R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Eclipse claims it could present less risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and maybe even emphysema.

A boon for smokers? Not as tobacco critics see it. They say the lure of "safer" cigarettes will continue to hook smokers who would otherwise have quit. Worse, they believe supposedly less risky brands will draw in new smokers. The counter argument: If smokers are addicted and won't quit, why not offer them an alternative that might salvage their health.

"Less toxic" and "less risk" claims rely more on hope than science. If they are to be tolerated in the marketplace, tobacco companies at the least should start acting now to fund the independent research that might eventually substantiate these claims-or explain to smokers why they aren't. That truly would be a step in the right direction.

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