Cambridge filter method

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

The Cambridge Filter Method is the test the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has long used to determine the tar and nicotine content of American cigarettes. The test is listed on cigarette packs as the "FTC Method." The test was to provide smokers with information about the tar and nicotine levels contained in various brands of cigarettes. In 1966, when the testing for tar and nicotine was first instated, public health authorities believed that tobacco-related illnesses could be reduced if smokers minimized the amount of tar and nicotine they inhaled from cigarettes. Cigarette companies have used the numbers derived from FTC's testing as a marketing tool to sell "light," "ultra-light" and "low tar, low nicotine" cigarettes to smokers in the "health concerned segment" of the market.[1]

In July 2008, the FTC announced that they are considering dropping the FTC Method of testing cigarettes because in recent years research has proven the test meaningless because smokers have been found to "compensate," or adjust how they smoke, to get the amount of nicotine they need from a cigarette, regardless of nicotine content. Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced a bill to stop cigarette companies from using the "FTC Method" to measure tar and nicotine. "For years, Big Tobacco has relied on the FTC's flawed testing method to mislead smokers into thinking these ["light" and "low tar"] cigarettes deliver less tar and nicotine...In reality, some so-called 'light' and 'low tar' cigarettes can actually be more harmful for smokers," Lautenberg said.[2]

Tobacco industry documents on FTC Method

  • A 1971 handwritten letter seems to show R.J. Reynolds working to prevent the publication of information regarding the FTC Method that might reflect poorly upon the industry. The document discusses a study, apparently done either in-house or commissioned by the tobacco industry itself, whose results were adverse to the industry:
"This paper is well-organized, professionally written, and describes highly competent work. There is nothing wrong with this paper as concerns work quality, scientific merit or written preparation.
"...At this time, contents can be interpreted to be contrary to Corporation interests...the results of this study may be interpreted by adversary forces to mean that smokers received much more 'tar' than FTC numbers indicate. Such interpretation would be damaging to our already besieged industry even if it were later shown to be untrue.
"... Because publication of this paper might raise further controversy over the issue of 'tar' delivery to smokers, publication is deferred."

This document is part of a larger collection (500286124/6151) that seems to indicate that, had the results of this study not been inimical to industry interests, it would have been presented at a 1971 Tobacco Chemists' Conference.[3]

  • In a March 7, 1974 Philip Morris (PM) document, a PM executive rationalized to others inside the company of the moral correctness of failing to disclose to public health agencies that FTC tests reveal incorrect tar levels for their products. Once the writer has justified that, he says that tar intake can be lowered if smokers are re-trained to take fewer (or smaller) puffs. He fails to say, however, whose duty it might be to re-train the smokers.[4]
  • A 1972 Philip Morris (PM) scientific report describes experiments done at Philip Morris that showed the number of cigarettes smokers smoke can be manipulated by varying the nicotine levels in cigarettes. The report confirmed a theory that smokers develop a "daily nicotine intake quota" and that they "tend to modify their consumption rate in order to maintain their normal quota." The document was used as a trial exhibit in Minnesota, Florida, Missouri and Texas, and in the Broin case (the flight attendants' suit for injuries from secondhand smoke exposure in aircraft cabins). The report states:

Cigarette consumption rate, i.e., number of cigarettes smoked per day, was found to vary as a function of the nicotine delivery of these cigarettes. Specifically, as nicotine increased, cigarette consumption rate decreased. This finding supports the notion that smokers develop a daily nicotine intake quota and that when smoking cigarettes differing in nicotine delivery from that which they are accustomed they tend to modify their consumption rate in order to maintain their normal quota.[5]

Sourcewatch references

External references


  1. JB Cohen, American Journal of Public Health Smokers' Knowledge and Understanding of Advertised Tar Numbers: Health Policy Implications Published article. January, 1996. Bates No. 2064240222/0228
  2. Will Lester, Associated Press FTC considers backing off nicotine guidance July 9, 2008
  3. R.J. Reynolds Puff Profile Paper Handwritten report. May 1, 1971. Bates No. 500286135/6136
  4. Ray Fagan, Philip Morris Moral Issue on FTC Tar Memorandum. March 7, 1974. Bates No. 1000211075/1076
  5. William L. Dunn, TR Schori, Philip Morris Tar, Nicotine and Cigarette Consumption Scientific report. January 1972. Bates No. 1003285403/5416

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