Cigarette filters do 'more harm than good,' experts call for EU-wide ban

Cigarette filters do 'more harm than good,' experts call for EU-wide ban
Smoking - a fatal habit? Credit: Belga/Hans Jurgen Wiedl

Filter cigarettes are just as unhealthy as cigarettes without a filter, a new analysis by the Superior Health Council revealed. What's more, filters create a false sense of security and can even cause more carcinogenic substances in cigarette smoke.

Filters in cigarettes are made of plastic and therefore very difficult to decay in the environment, often resulting in little piles of cigarette butts on sidewalks; 41% of Flemish litter consists of cigarette butts, show figures from the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM).

"Filters in cigarettes do not actually reduce the harmful health effects of smoking. From a public health perspective, they do not offer any benefit, while they pollute the environment," said the expert report by the Superior Health Council.

Cigarette filter tips give a false sense of security, as the smoker believes it purifies harmful substances from the smoke, the report said. While they indeed stop some soot particles and nicotine, it also has harmful side effects: a filter results in more carcinogenic substances, for example, because the tobacco burns more slowly and incompletely.

Additionally, smokers often inhale more deeply (or more often) to compensate for the filter.

False solution

Filters are also said to have a more "pleasant" mouthfeel, reduce sensory irritation of the airways and prevent tobacco from entering the mouth. This means that a ban on filters would make smoking less attractive, which could indirectly reduce the total number of cigarettes smoked, studies show.

"Instead of protecting against lung cancer, the filters have mainly promoted a shift in lung cancer type over the years," the Superior Health Council concluded, adding that filters are therefore a "false solution" to the health problem caused by smoking.

While roughly one in five Belgians smokes, over 14,000 people in the country die from the consequences of smoking every year.

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Now, the Superior Health Council is asking that filters be regarded as non-degradable single-use plastic products, just like disposable plastic bags: it will not make smoking more unhealthy, but it will solve the environmental problem and reduce the total number of cigarettes smoked.

However, introducing such a ban is not easy; especially if it were only implemented at the Belgian level, there is little chance of success, as the tobacco industry is very strong and very good at protecting its own interests.

The Superior Health Council is also aware of this, which is why they propose to immediately implement such a filter ban at the European level.

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