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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 regular cigarette.

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 1970s.

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 its meaning.

"The public should be further informed of the meaning and purpose of cigarette labels," the researchers conclude.

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.


Reference Source 89

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