Cigarette filters are completely useless and are only there to fool smokers into thinking they’re safer, according to scientists.
Experts not only say the butts don’t actually work but they could even increase the risk of cancer — as they cause smokers to suck harder and do not remove harmful toxins.
Some scientists have even dubbed filters “the deadliest fraud in the history of civilization.”
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and San Diego State University have now used the British Medical Journal to call for an EU-wide ban.
In particular, they emphasize that cigarette filters do not work and were first manufactured to “take the fear out of smoking.”
Thomas Novotny, of San Diego State University, said: “Filters first appeared in the 1950s when the tobacco industry portrayed them as a way to make cigarettes safe by absorbing some of the tar that was implicated in the lung cancer epidemic.
“But we now know that this safety argument was a myth, one of the many created by the tobacco industry to sell cigarettes.”
The yellow discoloration is reportedly an innovation deliberately created to reassure smokers that the filter is working, and comes from a change in pH rather than an accumulation of tar.
Robert Proctor, a historian of the tobacco industry from Stanford University, also told The New York Times: “They are put on cigarettes to save on the cost of tobacco and to fool people. They don’t filter at all.”
Now, scientists have also argued that filters are not just a pointless marketing gimmick, they are actively harmful.
The website of the US Surgeon General says: “Evidence suggests that ventilated filters may have contributed to higher risks of lung cancer by enabling smokers to inhale more vigorously, thereby drawing carcinogens contained in cigarette smoke more deeply into lung tissue.”
And on top of this, cigarette filters are a major source of plastic pollution and the greatest single item of litter found in the world. This is because they are made from a type of plastic known as cellulose acetate that does not easily biodegrade.
Every year 4.5 trillion butts are littered globally and they take 10 years to degrade.
Environmentalists argue that they should be viewed similarly to plastic straws.
“Even though the cellulose acetate filter is the single most commonly collected item of litter globally, the industry has largely succeeded in avoiding the public outrage expressed towards plastic waste,” the team of scientists wrote in the BMJ.
“Unlike manufacturers of some other polluting post-consumption waste products, such as refrigerators containing fluorocarbons, it has never been held accountable for the cost of the waste it generates.”
Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is one of the experts who wrote the editorial in the scientific journal.
He said that although stopping filters felt like an easy win, he expected strong resistance from the tobacco industry.
“It’s very difficult to go back on something when they made this big fuss that these filters were here to protect you,” he said.
“How can they then say, ‘Oh, we made it up all along’?”
McKee co-wrote the British Medical Journal article with professor Novotny and May Schalwyk.