| Smokers Mistakenly Deem
'Light' Cigarettes Safer
NEW YORK (Reuters
Health) - The word "light" on cigarette
labels should not be interpreted as "safer," but a sizable number
of smokers seem to read it that way, according to a Swiss survey.
Among nearly 500 current and former
smokers polled, 27% said so-called light cigarettes carry a lower
lung cancer risk than regular versions do. And the majority thought
that one would need to smoke at least two light cigarettes--or
four "ultralight" ones--to equal the amount of nicotine in one
Only one in 10 correctly said that
a smoker inhales comparable nicotine doses from one regular, light
or ultralight cigarette, according to researchers.
Dr. Jean-Francois Etter of the
University of Geneva in Switzerland led the study. The findings
are published in the current issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.
Designations like "light" and "low-tar"
are based on nicotine and tar yields in cigarette smoke as gauged
by machines--and not what smokers actually take in.
Anti-smoking groups have accused
tobacco companies of using "light" labels to deceive the public
about the health risks of the products. And a recent US government
report concluded that light and low-tar cigarettes have done nothing
to reduce smoking-related deaths since their introduction in the
According to Etter's team, all
types of cigarettes contain between 6 and 17 milligrams of nicotine,
and smokers take in 1 to 2 milligrams of the addictive substance
per cigarette--regardless of the measured nicotine yield in smoke.
As for tar, the catch-all term
for the many toxic chemicals in cigarettes, research shows that
smokers of light and low-tar products have the same tar exposure
as those who favor regular cigarettes.
Yet based on the new survey, "many
smokers choose light cigarettes because they think that such cigarettes
are safer or less addictive," Etter and his colleagues report.
Among their findings was the fact
that no survey respondent appeared to know what the nicotine "number"
printed on cigarette packs means.
The number refers to the milligrams
of nicotine in cigarette smoke as determined by a machine. But
41% of respondents thought it represents the amount of nicotine
in one cigarette or in the whole pack. More than half didn't know
"The public should be further informed
of the meaning and purpose of cigarette labels," the researchers
Among current smokers in the survey,
one third used light cigarettes and 22% ultralights. Women and
smokers who said they intended to quit were particularly likely
to use the products.
SOURCE: Preventive Medicine 2003;36:92-98.
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