News Releases

November 11, 1999

Imperial Tobacco's 'Elastic' Cigarettes
study shows that cigarettes were designed to release more nicotine


(Ottawa) - Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) released a study today that shows how Imperial Tobacco re-engineered its cigarettes to mislead smokers about the level of poisonous substances they were inhaling.

"Like the U.S. tobacco companies, Imperial Tobacco was manipulating nicotine and other smoke compounds," said Dr. Atul Kapur, an emergency physician and a member of PSC's board of directors. "Unlike the U.S. tobacco companies, they apparently achieved this not by spiking or ammoniating Canadian tobacco, but by designing cigarettes to cause smokers to inhale more cancer-causing tar and addictive nicotine than they would reasonably expect either from the values on the package or from their own smoking impressions."

This is the first research analysis of Canadian tobacco industry documents contained among U.S. industry material released in 1998. The analysis was conducted by Mr. Neil Collishaw, an international health consultant. Mr. Collishaw led tobacco programs at Health Canada in the 1980s. He recently returned to Canada from the World Health Organization's headquarters in Geneva, where he was on staff of WHO's tobacco program from 1991 to 1999.

On behalf of PSC, Mr. Collishaw analyzed documents relating to the marketing and research activities of Imperial Tobacco and its British parent, British-American Tobacco (BAT) selected from 10,000 pages collected by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada during 1999. These documents became public as a result of a 1998 settlement reached between tobacco companies operating in the United States and the State of Minnesota. Many are accessible only at a warehouse depository at BAT's headquarters near London, U.K. Others are available in Minnesota and on tobacco company web-sites.

"Sequencing these documents allows a story to emerge," explained Mr. Collishaw. "It's a story of how Canada's largest cigarette firm continued to deny in public what it internally admitted was true - that their cigarettes were both addicting and killing their customers. It's a story of Imperial Tobacco's Montreal Laboratory, and the research it hid from governments and the public. It's a story of the deliberate re-engineering of cigarettes to make them easier to smoke, and harder to quit."

Mr. Collishaw's analysis traces the history of BAT and Imperial Tobacco's research response to the "smoking and health" crises of the 1960s, when smokers learned of the serious health consequences of tobacco use. Two prongs of industry-research were identified in this study. The first was aimed at producing safer ('health-oriented') cigarettes to reduce disease in smokers. The second was aimed at producing more reassuring ('health-image') cigarettes to discourage smokers from quitting.

"It should be reassuring that Imperial Tobacco was researching a 'safer' cigarette," said Dr. Kapur. "But it's not. We uncovered no evidence that they used any of this information to make health improvements to their cigarettes. On the contrary, they ignored their own research findings that smoke from their new cigarette designs - such as those with increased ventilation - were likely more harmful than earlier cigarettes. Worse, they hid their knowledge - even from those who were smoking their cigarettes.

"The research of BAT and Imperial Tobacco into 'health-image' cigarettes is even more disturbing," explained Neil Collishaw. "In response to smokers' health concerns, Imperial Tobacco developed cigarettes which gave the impression of being healthier, without actually offering any improvement. These cigarettes deceived smokers, and deluded them into switching brands instead of quitting."

Neil Collishaw described two generations of 'health-image' cigarettes. "The first is the familiar and conventional 'light' cigarettes of the 1970s and early 1980s. The second, unknown until these documents surfaced, is a new generation of 'brighter lights,' re-engineered over the past 15 years."

Neil Collishaw’s paper describes how these newer cigarettes were deliberately designed to allow smokers to satisfy their nicotine craving with minimal changes in smoking behaviour. In their zeal to get the nicotine dose they crave, smokers compensate for lower yields. They get a higher dose of tar and nicotine than the standard rating determined by a smoking machine. The newer cigarette designs of the 1980s and 1990s make it very easy for smokers to compensate without even being aware that they are doing so. Early designs for the lower yield light and mild cigarettes fooled the smoking machines, but not the smokers. They described smoking them as "smoking air". Newer cigarettes fool both the machines and the smokers.

"The documents record the warnings of the company's scientists that these cigarettes could be more dangerous because they resulted in smokers inhaling more smoke, and inhaling it more deeply," said Collishaw. "Not surprisingly, the rates of adenocarcinoma of the lung have risen in the 1980s and 1990s, and the increases is probably caused by the deep inhalation of smoke from so-called light and mild filter cigarettes." Neil Collishaw cited a recent Health Canada report showing that lung adenocarcinoma was the fastest growing lung cancer, and was the major cause of lung cancer death among women.

Two major conclusions emerge from this report:

  • Public health objectives for lower yield cigarettes were subverted by tobacco company actions. Light and mild cigarettes have probably resulted in more smoking, less quitting and more adenocarcinoma of the lung.
  • Tobacco companies knew their products were hazardous but publicly denied this knowledge. They knew that cigarettes could give higher yields than advertised, deliberately set about to make sure that smokers would compensate more often than not, and deliberately hid this deception from the public.

"These are serious problems and they need to be addressed seriously," said Cynthia Callard, Executive Director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. Two major questions are raised by this report:

  • How can we ensure that tobacco companies cannot subvert future measures to reduce the harm from smoking, especially when Health Canada implements new regulations under the Tobacco Act to regulate the ways cigarettes are manufactured?
  • Should the tobacco companies be held accountable through legal action or other means for hiding their knowledge about the hazards of their products and for implementing design changes which increased the harm to smokers?

Cynthia Callard called for an open, public and transparent review of this new evidence. "The government has responsibilities to both public health and public justice," she said. "For both these reasons, it must move quickly to review and respond to this new evidence."

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For information: Cynthia Callard 613 233 4878
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada

Neil Collishaw 613 728 3398
International Public Health Consultant



  • "Manipulation: The Story of Imperial Tobacco and Its Cigarettes" (html) (pdf)

Background information: 

  • The Engineering of Canadian Cigarettes  (html) (pdf)
  • Research on Cigarette Toxicity at ITL's Montreal Laboratory (html) (pdf)
  • Cigarettes and the Health of Canadians (html) (pdf)
  • British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Tobacco (ITL) (html) (pdf)

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