Smoking at least twice as harmful as stated on packages: health institute

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Smokers inhale much higher doses of harmful substances than is stated on their cigarette packages, according to a study by Dutch public health institute RIVM. The researchers found that the amount of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide is at least twice as high as manufacturers claim, ANP reports.

The differences come from the method cigarette companies use to measure these harmful substances, according to the RIVM. The EU guidelines tobacco manufacturers follow allow them to measure the values while small ventilation holes in cigarettes are left open. According to the RIVM, a more realistic picture is created when the holes are covered or blocked. The institute examined hundreds of brands in this way and found that with almost all cigarettes, smokers inhale much more tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than is permitted by law.

Cigarette smoke is allowed to contain a maximum of 10 milligrams of tar, for example. The smoke of Belinda Super Kings contains 36.3 milligrams of tar. Marlboro Prime has the biggest differences between the figures reported by te manufacturer and the values measured by the RIVM. The packaging states that the smoke contains only 1 milligram of tar and 0.1 milligram of nicotine. The RIVM found 26.1 milligrams and 1.7 milligrams respectively.

The RIVM also stated that the commission that drew up the current measurement method used by tobacco producers is "largely influenced by the tobacco industry."

A spokesperson for Philip Morris, manufacturer of Marlboro and Chesterfield among others, said in a reaction that this type of testing "is not intended to measure individual exposure, but to make a comparison between cigarette brands". According to him, if another measurement method is required, the maximum allowable values should also be adjusted.

State Secretary Paul Blokhuis of Public Health said that he is "shocked by these hard facts", even though the expectation was that tobacco smoke would turn out to be more harmful than the packages suggest. Blokhuis called it "very worrying that with all cigarettes smokers actually get a lot more poison in than they are told".  He is advocating for cigarettes in the EU to be "measured without any tampering".

Blokhuis is working in consultation with social organizations, knowledge institutions and the health care sector on reducing smoking in the Netherlands. According to the State Secretary, several measures are needed to achieve this goal. Among other things, he wants to make tobacco more expensive, reduce the number of sales outlets and ban smoking on terraces.

A large group of Dutch organizations, hospitals, municipalities and former smokers filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry because, among other things, smokers inhale more harmful substances than claimed on the packaging. The Public Prosecutor dropped the case, stating that the tobacco manufacturers are not breaking any EU law or regulation with the method they use to measure these substances.