Discount cigarettes

Key Messages

  • The smoke from discount cigarettes contains the same chemicals, in similar concentrations, as the smoke from premium cigarettes.
  • Smoking discount cigarettes poses the same risk of harmful health effects as smoking other Canadian cigarettes.

Background

Over the last decade, (2000-2010), price competition between cigarette manufacturers has resulted in a significant number of "discount" cigarettes being introduced to the market. These cheaper brands have become increasingly popular with Canadian smokers and have gained considerable market share from premium brands. Discount cigarettes are defined as cigarettes sold at a price below the average unit wholesale price, while premium cigarettes are defined as cigarettes sold at a price above the average unit wholesale price. Figure 1 illustrates how the sales of a discount brand increased for one manufacturer while the sales of one of its premium brands decreased over a few years.

The availability of cheaper cigarettes has raised concerns about their impact on public health. Evidence has shown that "individuals have switched to lower-priced discount brands rather than quitting smoking or decreasing the number of cigarettes smoked." Footnote 1 

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Organization: Health Canada

Type: Guidelines

Date published: Revised 2011
ISBN: 978-1-100-17397-9
Cat. No.: H128-1/10-625E-PDF
Figure 1: Total unit wholesale sales in Canada of a discount and a premium brand from the same manufacturer, 2000-2008Footnote 2 
Description - Figure 1: Total unit wholesale sales in Canada of a discount and a premium brand from the same manufacturer, 2000 to 2008.

Bar chart showing total unit wholesale sales for a premium and a discount brand from 2000 to 2008.

2000 = 3681 millions of units of Premium A and 126 millions of units of Discount A; 2001= 3477 millions of units of Premium A and 119 millions of units of Discount A; 2002 = 3190 millions of units of Premium A and 93 millions of units of Discount A; 2003 = 2794 millions of units of Premium A and 482 millions of units of Discount A; 2004 = 2113 millions of units of Premium A and 1105 millions of units of Discount A; 2005 = 1793 millions of units of Premium A and 1268 millions of units of Discount A; 2006 = 1555 millions of units of Premium A and 1192 millions of units of Discount A; 2007 = 1270 millions of units of Premium A and 1267 millions of units of Discount A; 2008 = 1124 millions of units of Premium A and 1012 millions of units of Discount A.

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals that are formed when tobacco burns. At least 70 of these are known to be cancer causing.

To assess the potential health impacts of discount cigarettes, Health Canada characterized and compared selected discount and premium brands.

Results

Physical characteristics and tobacco composition are shown in Table 1 for one discount and premium brand. The choice of brand was based on declared tar value. No statistically significant difference in length, diameter, tobacco weight, ventilation, tobacco pH, smoke PH and nicotine content per cigarette was observed between premium and discount cigarettes. In addition, both types contain the same additives.

Table 1: Comparison of physical characteristics and tobacco composition Footnote 2 of a discount and a premium cigarette brand from the same manufacturer
  Premium A Discount A
Total length (mm) 83.9 ± 0.2 84.0 ± 0.1
Average diameter (mm) 7.9 ± 0.1 7.9 ± 0.2
Tobacco weight (mg/cig) 782 ± 10 797 ± 10
Filter ventilation None None
Tobacco pH 5.3 5.3
Smoke pH 6.01 ± 0.04 5.78 ± 0.07
Nicotine content (mg/cig) 11.9 ± 0.6 12.5 ± 0.5
TriacetinFootnote α (µg/cig) 46.4 ± 0.7 53 ± 2

Health Canada compared discount and premium cigarettes and found that the same chemicals are present in the smoke of both types of cigarettes. The amount of six significant chemicals is shown in Figure 2. Comparable amounts of these chemicals are found in the smoke of discount and premium cigarettes.

Figure 2: Concentration of selected emissions of a discount and a premium brand from the same manufacturer

ISO = Data collected under ISO smoking conditions
MOD = Data collected under Health Canada modified smoking conditions

Description - Figure 2: Concentration of selected emissions of a discount and a premium brand from the same manufacturer.
Bar chart showing the concentration (mg/cig) of selected emissions under both ISO and MOD smoking conditions of a discount and a premium brand from the same manufacturer.
Carbon Monoxide = 15.46 (ISO) and 28.63 (MOD) for Premium A and 16.67 (ISO) and 30.69 (MOD) for Discount A; Tar = 14.25 (ISO) and 30.48 (MOD) for Premium A and 14.79 (ISO) and 31.62 (MOD) for Discount A; Nicotine = 1.21 (ISO) and 2.50 (MOD) for Premium A and 1.27 (ISO) and 2.66 (MOD) for Discount A; Hydrogen cyanide = 0.15 (ISO) and 0.29 (MOD) for Premium A and 0.16 (ISO) and 0.31 (MOD) for Discount A; Formaldehyde = 0.09 (ISO) and 0.19 (MOD) for Premium A and 0.09 (ISO) and 0.20 (MOD) for Discount A; Benzene = 0.06 (ISO) and 0.10 (MOD) for Premium A and 0.05 (ISO) and 0.09 (MOD) for Discount A.

In addition, toxicity tests confirmed that the smoke of the discount cigarettes, like all cigarettes, is mutagenic (causes mutation in DNA), cytotoxic (affects cell structure and its components) and genotoxic (causes structural changes in chromosomes).

Conclusions

Discount and premium cigarettes have the same physical characteristics, similar smoke composition and can cause harmful health effects. Health Canada considers that smoking, whether discount or premium cigarettes, poses a significant risk to the smoker's health.

References

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