What's more, whether lower-nitrosamine cigarettes translate into fewer cancers and fewer cancer deaths among smokers is till "a question mark" in the research, says Dr. Edwin Salsitz, attending physician in the division of Chemical Dependency at Beth Israel Medical Center.
Nonetheless, this study, which is the first to compare nitrosamine levels among cigarettes around the globe, provides important insight into what makes cigarettes bad for you and how that can be tweaked in production, Pirkle says.
This kind of insight becomes all the more essential, thanks to new regulation that allows the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the production of cigarettes.
The CDC's findings have added weight considering the new regulatory power granted to the FDA by last year's Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, tobacco policy experts say.
"This study shows why the authority to issue product standards -- which the FDA now has -- is so critically important," says McGoldrick. "This is a dramatic change from the times when tobacco companies alone determined product design."
In the past, campaigns on ways to make cigarettes "healthier" by adding filters or by reducing the tar content turned out to be "shams," says Salsitz, but in this case, the FDA would monitor whether any production changes could actually impact public health.
Though this study alone does not prove that lower the nitrosamine levels in cigarettes will actually mean fewer cases of cancer for smokers, adds Mitch Zeller, a lawyer who specializes in tobacco policy, but if the research reveals that it does, "the FDA now has the power to make that change."
Unfortunately, that change is a long time in the making, Spangler notes, as this research is young yet.
Until an FDA-sanctioned "healthier" cigarette can be made, the best option for lowering the health risks of smoking, of course, is to kick the habit.
"As of today, there is not cigarette on the market that public health organizations endorse as offering 'reduced risk,'" says Sutton, so "if smokers are concerned about the risks of cigarette smoking, the best thing to do is quit."