Image for Big tobacco targets children with toxic filters. AGAIN ...

*Pic: Photo by Alamy: purchased by Dr. Kathryn Barnsley

Filters are a toxic cigarette engineering fraud, perpetrated by the tobacco industry, that harms both smokers and the environment.

And now the industry is targeting children. Again. New cigarettes are being sold in Tasmania with squeezable flavour balls in the filters – aimed at kids. These cigarette filters have a small ball of menthol or other tempting flavourings. [See pics] . The Marlboro version is called “Ice blast”

“The ICEBALL – Marlboro Ice Blast is a special, unique kind of menthol cigarette mainly because it has this special technology. A green ball called the ICEBALL which is at the upper part of the filter which you have to press to break before lighting and smoking the cigarette, to enhance the menthol taste and flavour of the cigarette.” 

It is alarming that 52% of Australian child smokers aged 12-17 have tried these flavoured filter cigarettes. But of course, the industry is delighted, Philip Morris is pretending to get out of combustible products and governments stand by and do nothing. 

Cigarette filters were initially introduced by the tobacco industry in the 1960s to make cigarettes “safer”. But we now know they provide no safety, no health benefits, and are a major cause of environmental littering.   

The ACCC forced the tobacco companies to change the name of cigarettes, but not the content or mechanism. Some 90% of cigarettes in Australia now have vented filters, which cause more lethal cancers. It’s easy to tell by unravelling the paper filter wrapping and holding it to the light. 

What do filters do?

A comprehensive review of evidence by Song et al published earlier this year on filters causing cancer found filter ventilation has contributed to the rise in lethal adenocarcinomas, and recommended filter ventilation be banned. 

In commenting on the Song review Professor Jonathan Samet said:

“If the evidentiary standard required by the TCA is for certainty beyond equipoise (ie, the preponderance of evidence indicates harm from ventilation), then the findings of the review by Song et al. are sufficient to support a ban on filter ventilation. Given a lack of evidence for countervailing harms, ending filter ventilation could be a “no regrets” action that would benefit public health.”

Australian and international researchers have been urging the banning of filters since the early 2000s, and the regulation of cigarette content and engineering.   

Pollution of the environment - filters kill fish, birds and anything else in the ocean

Cigarette filters become cigarette butts. In Australia cigarette butts are consistently the most littered item identified in national clean-up campaigns. Around seven billion butts become litter in Australia every year. Filters are harmful to the environment, as they contain plastic and are not bio-degradable.
Our urban environment, marine life, oceans rivers and beaches would all benefit substantially from ending the sale of cigarettes with filters.   

In 2011 the BMJ journal Tobacco Control devoted a whole issue to butts and reported the presence of heavy metals in cigarette butts are harmful to marine environments. 

“Moerman and Potts demonstrate the presence of heavy metals in cigarette butt leachates—the toxic soup produced when butts are soaked in water; Slaughter shows that only one cigarette butt will kill half the fish exposed to leachates in a controlled laboratory setting; Harris describes the history of how tobacco companies used filters as a marketing tool in an effort to allay fears about the harm caused by cigarettes, even after the companies knew that filters did not reduce risk. Smith and Novotny reveal the tobacco industry’s long-standing concern about the cigarette butt problem and how it has responded by shifting responsibility for the job of cleanup back to its victims. Schneider et al analyse tobacco product litter as an economic issue, with costs of cleanup borne by communities instead of the tobacco manufacturers. Barnes describes some important regulatory and environmental principles that should underlie efforts to mitigate cigarette butt waste, including the Precautionary Principle—which states that environmental harm does not have to be proved to justify preventing potential exposures—and Extended Producer Responsibility”

Why have governments failed to regulate or ban filter cigarettes?

The Commonwealth government acted in 2009 to change the engineering of cigarettes in Australia to reduce fire risk from cigarettes. Some states banned fruit-flavoured cigarettes because the flavours were designed to be attractive to children. 

State and federal governments already have the power to force cigarette companies to sell less attractive, less lethal, less addictive cigarettes.

Since 2014 the Commonwealth has failed to act on two comprehensive reports on effective regulation of cigarettes. Filter cigarettes should be recalled from sale in Australia, and the tobacco industry forced to pay local government and water authorities for cleaning up their toxic waste. 

Why doesn’t the federal or state government act? Are they spooked by the awesome legal resources of the tobacco industry – and their experience on plain packaging? The government won the case in the High Court, with costs awarded against the industry. Are they in the pockets of the tobacco industry? Certainly, Senator Leyonhjelm is happy to admit to supporting big tobacco and taking their money.  And the Tories in the UK have some questions to answer. 

The Tasmanian Liberal Government received $11,000 from Philip Morris just prior to the last election. 

The current National President of the Liberal Party is former British American Tobacco head Nick Greiner, who as recently as the early 2000s was unashamed about promoting tobacco. 

Can there ever be a “safe” cigarette?

We must not mislead Australians about a “safer” cigarette. There isn’t one. But without filters the number of lethal lung cancers may be reduced, more smokers would quit because of the harsh taste, fewer young people would start smoking, and fewer birds, fish and other marine life in our waterways and oceans would be killed.

• Sections of this article first appeared in The Conversation on October 16 2017:”

More reading:

The failed history of tobacco harm reduction:

PJ Hybrid Gold – Fresh. Note the flavoured “squeeze” ball inside the filter.  Manufactured by Philip Morris in Korea. Purchased Kingston, Tasmania 22 October 2017. Pic by Dr. Kathryn Barnsley 22/10/2017

Packet of PJ Hybrid Gold- Fresh manufactured by Philip Morris in Korea. Purchased Kingston Tasmania 22/10/2017. Pic by Dr. Kathryn Barnsley 22/10/2017

The Winfield Optimum Crush blue with filter opened up to show the flavoured “squeeze ball”. Manufactured by British American Tobacco, manufactured in Singapore.
Purchased Kingston, Tasmania 22/10/2017. Pic by Dr. Kathryn Barnsley 22/10/2017

Winfield Optimum Crush Blue manufactured by British American Tobacco in Singapore. Pic by Dr. Kathryn Barnsley 22/10/2017.

*Dr Kathryn Barnsley is a researcher, advocate and writer on tobacco control and public health policy making. She was formerly a member of the National Expert Advisory Committee on Tobacco, is a policy advisor to SmokeFree Tasmania, and was responsible for the development of the Public Health Act 1997, the Food Act 1998 and other tobacco and health legislation. Dr Barnsley’s publications can be found online through Google Scholar or any academic search engine. Information on filters, tobacco regulation and the Tobacco Free Generation can be found on the website