The Truth About "Light" Cigarettes: Questions and Answers
- The lower tar and nicotine numbers on light cigarette packs
and in ads are misleading (see Question 1).
- Light cigarettes trick the smoking machines so that they
record artificially low tar and nicotine levels (see Question
- Light cigarettes provide no benefit to smokers’ health
(see Question 3).
- Resources are available for people who want to quit smoking
(see Question 6).
Many smokers choose “low-tar,” “mild,” “light,” or “ultra-light” cigarettes
because they think that these cigarettes may be less harmful to their
health than “regular” or “full-flavor” cigarettes. Although smoke from
light cigarettes may feel smoother and lighter on the throat and chest,
light cigarettes are not healthier than regular cigarettes. The truth
is that light cigarettes do not reduce the health risks of smoking.
The only way to reduce a smoker’s risk, and the risk to others, is to
stop smoking completely.
- What about the lower tar and nicotine numbers on
light and ultra-light cigarette packs and in ads for these products?
How do light cigarettes trick the smoking machines?
- These numbers come from smoking machines, which “smoke” every
brand of cigarettes exactly the same way.
- These numbers do not really tell how much tar and nicotine a
particular smoker may get because people do not smoke cigarettes
the same way the machines do. And no two people smoke the same way.
What is the scientific evidence about the health
effects of light cigarettes?
- Tobacco companies designed light cigarettes with tiny pinholes
on the filters. These “filter vents” dilute cigarette smoke with
air when light cigarettes are “puffed” on by smoking machines, causing
the machines to measure artificially low tar and nicotine levels.
- Many smokers do not know that their cigarette filters have vent
holes. The filter vents are uncovered when cigarettes are smoked
on smoking machines. However, filter vents are placed just millimeters
from where smokers put their lips or fingers when smoking. As a
result, many smokers block the vents—which actually turns the light
cigarette into a regular cigarette.
- Some cigarette makers increased the length of the paper wrap
covering the outside of the cigarette filter, which decreases the
number of puffs that occur during the machine test. Although tobacco
under the wrap is still available to the smoker, this tobacco is
not burned during the machine test. The result is that the machine
measures less tar and nicotine levels than is available to the smoker.
- Because smokers, unlike machines, crave nicotine, they may inhale
more deeply; take larger, more rapid, or more frequent puffs; or
smoke a few extra cigarettes each day to get enough nicotine to
satisfy their craving. This is called “compensating,” and it means
that smokers end up inhaling more tar, nicotine, and other harmful
chemicals than the machine-based numbers suggest.
Have the tobacco companies conducted research on
the amount of tar and nicotine people actually inhale while smoking
- The Federal Government’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) has
concluded that light cigarettes provide no benefit to smokers’ health.
- According to the NCI monograph Risks Associated with Smoking
Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine,
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 other
- Researchers also found that the strategies used by the tobacco
industry to advertise and promote light cigarettes are intended
to reassure smokers, to discourage them from quitting, and to lead
consumers to perceive filtered and light cigarettes as safer alternatives
to regular cigarettes.
- There is also no evidence that switching to light or ultra-light
cigarettes actually helps smokers quit.
What is the bottom line for smokers who want to protect their health?
- The tobacco industry’s own documents show that companies are
aware that smokers of light cigarettes compensate by taking bigger
- Industry documents also show that the companies are aware of
the difference between machine-measured yields of tar and nicotine
and what the smoker actually inhales.
What resources are available on smoking cessation?
- There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. The only proven way
to reduce the risk of smoking-related disease is to quit smoking
- Smokers who quit live longer than those who continue to smoke.
In addition, the earlier smokers quit, the greater the health benefit.
Research has shown that people who quit before age 30 eliminate
almost all of their risk of developing a tobacco-related disease.
Even smokers who quit at age 50 reduce their risk of dying from
a tobacco-related disease.
- Quitting also decreases the risk of lung cancer, heart attacks,
stroke, and chronic lung disease.
For more information about smoking and advice on quitting, contact:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
||National Cancer Institute
||Smoking Quitline 1–877–44U–QUIT
|This fact sheet is a joint effort of the Office on Smoking and
Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the
National Cancer Institute.
Doll R, Peto R, Boreham J, et al. Mortality in relation to smoking:
50 years’ observations on male British doctors. BMJ 2004; 328
National Cancer Institute. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 13:
Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured
Yields of Tar and Nicotine. Bethesda, MD: NCI, 2001.
# # #
Publications (available at http://www.cancer.gov/publications)
National Cancer Institute (NCI) Resources
- Cancer Information Service (toll-free)
- Telephone: 1–800–4–CANCER (1–800–422–6237)
- TTY: 1–800–332–8615
- NCI’s Web site: http://www.cancer.gov
- LiveHelp, NCI’s live online assistance: https://cissecure.nci.nih.gov/livehelp/welcome.asp
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