Peer Review Status: Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cancer Information Service
First Published: June 2003
Last Revised: June 2003
Many smokers have switched to "light" or "low tar"
cigarettes thinking they are a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes.
This assumption could not be farther from the truth. The numbers for tar and
nicotine attached to brands of cigarettes comes from a smoking machine that
"smokes" every brand of cigarettes the same way. These machines
cannot tell how much tar/nicotine an individual smoker will receive because
people do not smoke cigarettes the same way the machines do. In addition,
no two people smoke the same way.
Other reasons for this error in thinking:
- Light cigarettes have tiny pinholes, or filter vents. These
vents dilute cigarette smoke with air when they are puffed
by the machine, so the machine actually measures an artificially low amount
of tar and nicotine.
- Smokers do not realize their cigarettes have these diluting vents and
cover the vents with their fingers while holding the cigarette to smoke.
This inadvertent blocking of the vents actually turns the light cigarette
back into a regular cigarette.
- Some smokers compensate for the lower nicotine by inhaling deeper, taking
larger puffs, puffing more often or smoking more cigarettes a day to get
enough nicotine to satisfy their craving.
- Cigarette makers also can make the paper the cigarette is wrapped in
to burn faster, so the smoking machine gets fewer puffs before the cigarette
burns down. This results in the machine measuring less tar and nicotine.
What are the facts?
- The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently concluded that light cigarettes
provide no benefit to smokers' health. This is reported in a study
called: Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine Measured
Yields of Tar and Nicotine.
- According to the NCI, people who switch to light cigarettes from regular
cigarettes are likely to inhale the same amount of hazardous chemicals,
and they remain at high risk for developing smoking-related cancers and
- There is no evidence that switching to light or ultra light cigarettes
actually helps smokers quit.