FTC Proposes New Method for Testing Amounts of Tar, Nicotine, and Carbon Monoxide in Cigarettes

New System Will Provide Consumers With Improved InformationAbout Cigarette Tar and Nicotine Yields

For Release

Consumers will receive better information about the tar and nicotine yields of their cigarettes if proposed changes to the Federal Trade Commission's cigarette test method are adopted. The FTC test method produces ratings for the tar and nicotine yields of cigarettes.

These ratings are voluntarily disclosed by the major cigarette companies in all cigarette advertisements. The Commission's proposal, which was announced today for public comment, would provide for cigarette testing based on two sets of smoking conditions: the conditions prescribed under the existing test method and a second set of test conditions that reflect more intensive smoking behavior. The tests would produce a range of potential yields for each cigarette rather than the single number produced by the existing method.

"We now know that the way a person smokes affects the amount of tar and nicotine they get. The present system doesn't reflect this," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We hope that this proposal will provide consumers with better information about what they're getting from their cigarettes. Consumers also should know that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette."

The current FTC test method was developed to obtain uniform data about tar and nicotine yields from cigarettes smoked under standardized conditions. The program, which began in 1967, was intended to provide smokers seeking to switch to lower tar cigarettes with a single, standardized measurement on which to base their choice among the existing brands. The Commission's reexamination of the test method was prompted by a number of concerns. First, according to the Commission, research now available indicates that many smokers switching to lower tar and nicotine cigarettes tend to take larger and more frequent puffs than are specified in the existing FTC test method, in order to satisfy their need for nicotine. Second, although FTC ratings were never intended to measure what any individual smoker would get from any cigarette, the Commission has been concerned that many consumers believe they do just that. To the extent that smokers interpret current tar and nicotine disclosures in this manner, they may fail to understand that the amount of tar and nicotine they get from a cigarette depends in part on how that cigarette is smoked, the FTC said.

The Commission's proposal addresses these concerns in two ways. First, the Commission proposes making the following modifications to its cigarette testing methodology:

1. The existing parameters (a 2-second, 35-milliliter puff every minute) would be retained to reflect less intensive smoking behavior; and  

2. A second set of parameters (a 2-second, 55-milliliter puff every 30 seconds) would be added to reflect smoking under more intensive conditions.

As with the current system, these ratings would not reflect what any individual smoker would get from any particular cigarette, the FTC said. Instead, they would be intended to convey: (1) that a cigarette's yield of tar, nicotine and other substances depends on how it is smoked; and (2) a range of yields for individual cigarettes smoked under less intensive and more intensive smoking conditions.

In addition to proposing changes to the test method, the Commission also is publishing for public comment two potential disclosures for cigarette advertising. Each disclosure would set out the ratings produced by the FTC's cigarette test method. The disclosures would differ in the additional information they provide consumers about the importance of their own smoking behavior:

1) There's no such thing as a safe smoke. Even cigarettes with low ratings can give you high amounts of tar and nicotine. It depends on how you smoke; or  

2) How much tar and nicotine you get from a cigarette depends on how intensely you smoke it.

The Commission in its Federal Register notice announcing the proposal also asks for public comment on an alternative to actual cigarette testing under the second set of parameters. That alternative would calculate the ratings that would be produced under those new conditions by use of mathematical models or "multipliers." According to the Federal Register notice, "[t]he four largest cigarette manufacturers (Philip Morris Incorporated, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, and Lorillard Tobacco Company) have done exploratory testing of a number of cigarette varieties using the Commission's proposed . . . smoking parameters, have plotted the resulting tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide yields against the yields obtained for the same cigarettes using the current FTC method, and have computed quadratic equations that they believe define the resulting curves." A report summarizing this work is being placed on the public record.

In order to better educate consumers about what the new ratings mean and the influence of their own smoking behavior on the amount of tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide they get, the FTC is proposing a consumer education campaign. The Federal Register notice also solicits public comments on what kinds of consumer education messages should accompany the Commission's revision of the cigarette test method.

The Commission noted that the proposed agreement between the tobacco industry and 40 state Attorneys General contemplates that responsibility for cigarette testing be shifted from the FTC to the Food and Drug Administration. If this agreement becomes law and the cigarette test method becomes the responsibility of the FDA, the FTC will cooperate fully during the transition. However, until the FDA has jurisdiction and promulgates rules governing the testing, the Commission believes that it should continue its efforts to improve the methodology.

The proposed revisions to the FTC cigarette test method will be published in the Federal Register shortly. Interested parties should submit written comments to the Office of the Secretary, Room 159, Federal Trade Commission, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. Comments will be accepted until November 17, 1997 and will be placed on the public record and on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site. The Commission vote to publish the proposal was 4-0.

Copies of the Federal Register notice, as well as the most recent FTC report on the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide content of cigarettes are available from the FTC's World Wide Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone at 202-326-2710.

(FTC File No. P944509)

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Victoria Streitfeld
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2718
Staff Contact:
Lee Peeler or Shira Modell
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3090 or 202-326-3116