Light Cigarettes May Be More Deadly

Anne Mitchell Health Guide
  • A few decades ago, the tobacco industry latched onto the notion of promoting “light” cigarettes in an attempt to address growing consumer concerns over the hazards of smoking.

    In 1966, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) conducted a study which enabled tobacco companies to make “factual” statements about the tar and nicotine yields of their cigarettes. This FTC study was followed by the widespread introduction of new “low-tar” and “low-nicotine” cigarettes. These brands seemed healthier than regular cigarettes.

    Many people flocked to the lighter cigarettes, believing that this choice would cause them less harm than the old, stronger brands. Certainly this was how the cigarette industry marketed these new cigarettes. Tar and nicotine numbers were placed on cigarette packs as a way for consumers to ostensibly evaluate the relative danger of each brand. The new brands were called “light”, “mild” “low-tar”, and “ultra-light.”

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    The problem with the FTC study was that a machine was used to measure cigarette tar and nicotine yield. The machine held the cigarette near the end of the filter, exposing the air vent holes that help to make the cigarette light. This resulted in nice, low readings of tar and nicotine. But most people either intentionally or inadvertently cover up these vent holes, turning the light cigarette into more of a regular-strength cigarette.

    What was also not considered was how humans might compensate for a reduction in nicotine by changing how they smoke. The machine inhaled the same amount of air for each drag regardless of the tar and nicotine level in the cigarette being studied. But people have nicotine cravings which drive them to either smoke more cigarettes each day, inhale more deeply, smoke more rapidly, or hold the smoke in longer. All these behaviors help the smoker attain a certain level of nicotine, which the machine readings did not account for.

    Over the last few decades, there has been a dramatic rise in certain types of lung cancers among low-tar smokers. According to Dr. Leigh Blizzard, a Menzies Research Institute researcher, “over the last twenty years - the period in which mild cigarettes have gained in popularity - the pattern of lung cancer has changed. Lung cancers are increasingly occurring deeper in lung tissues than they used to... This new pattern of lung cancer may be a direct result of cigarette smoke from low tar brands being inhaled more deeply into the lungs. Because these cancers are hidden deeper in lung tissue, they tend to be diagnosed later, are harder to treat successfully and are potentially more dangerous.”

    The bottom line is that there is no safe cigarette, and mild smokes are possibly more deadly than regular smokes. If you need help quitting, please look through the excellent resources on this site. A few links are below to help you get started. And remember, you might have to try a number of times before you finally succeed, but as a former smoker who’s been there, I can assure you it’s worth it!

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Published On: October 19, 2008