Anti-smokers have launched a lawsuit against the big tobacco companies in France

French anti-smokers have launched a lawsuit against the big tobacco companies claiming they have been misleading with test results and endangering lives. 

And the anti-smoking group have even used tobacco companies' own evidence from a previous lawsuit to support their case.

The claims centre around the tiny holes in cigarette filters, which according to anti-smoking group The National Anti-Smoking Committee (CNCT) are designed to ventilate the inhaled smoke.

CNCT claims the holes get covered over or are compressed by a smokers’ lips and fingers, and that the real levels of inhaled toxins are therefore much higher than published when the cigarettes are put through lab test smoking machines.  They claim these tiny holes prevent authorities knowing if the legal limits for the toxic substances have been exceeded.

Filter tips have been used in cigarettes since the 50s, with tobacco brands suggesting fresher inhales and lighter cigarettes from filtered cigarettes (before advertising was banned anyway).

But citing two existing studies from 1998 and 2006 the CNCT claims the actual tar levels inhaled in real-life smoking situations are between two and ten times higher than when tested through a machine in lab conditions.  These have led to claims that the test results are misleading and are endangering lives.

The French group has filed against the French subsidiaries of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands, and has said that similar lawsuits are being filed in Switzerland and the Netherlands. 

Furthermore, as part of the lawsuit CNCT is citing a legal case from 1982 when when Philip Morris and two other companies sued British American Tobacco.  British American Tobacco had created a cigarette that was marketed as 99% tar-free. However, Philip Morris and the other plaintiffs argued that the filter holes were often blocked by a user’s hand.

It is estimated that 97% of cigarettes use filters. Anti-smoking groups claim they are more damaging to health because they filtered smoke feels milder on the user’s throat making it more likely to take bigger and deeper puffs.  They have also said that filters block only the larger particles whereas the smaller particles that can travel deeper into the lungs still get through.

New sources said that Philip Morris France declined to comment but in a statement to Reuters Japan Tobacco said that the first it learned of the action was through the media, adding “we declare all the ingredients in our products every year to the Ministry of Health.”

British American Tobacco France told Reuters that it too adhered to regulations and that all its tobacco products were subjected to rigorous, independent and transparent tests.