Smoking "light" cigarettes was just another way Mim Long rationalized that she was not addicted to smoking, along with an arbitrary rule of not smoking before 10 a.m.
But, alas, the Los Angeles actress now admits light cigarettes are just as addictive as their stronger counterparts.
"We're addicts. We'll talk ourselves into anything to keep doing what we want to do," said Long, a smoker for 15 years who quit four years ago.
Light cigarettes are believed to be healthier and easier to quit, but a new study of smokers' habits revealed surprising findings. Researchers asked more than 12,000 former and current smokers about their smoking habits, and they found that people who had smoked light cigarettes were 54 percent less likely to be among the quitters than smokers who'd never smoked light cigarettes.
The results, reported today in the American Journal of Public Health, do not answer exactly why they were less likely to quit but suggest that the "light" smokers were less motivated to stop smoking because they believed that the cigarettes were healthier, according to Dr. Hilary Tindle, author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"There's so much confusion about cigarettes, the label speaks for itself. 'Light' is misinterpreted as being healthier," Tindle said.
Studies have shown that smoking light cigarettes offers no health benefits, but this is the first study to suggest how their use may influence behavior. In the early '80s, many doctors even recommended light cigarettes to their patients interested in quitting.
"There was the question: Does this help people make a quit attempt or are they providing an out?" said Dr. Ken Perkins, a psychiatry and epidemiology professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
According to Tindle, "lights" first came onto the market in the 1960s to reassure smokers and perhaps target those who were thinking of quitting.
However, the terms "light" or "slim" or "low tar" are misnomers -- light cigarettes are wrapped in a different, more diffuse paper than regular cigarettes, but their levels of nicotine and tar are similar to those of regular cigarettes.
They received the "light" label based on testing by robotlike smoking machines, according to Perkins.
"People don't smoke like a machine," said Perkins. In fact, they will cover up the holes with their fingers, inhale more deeply or smoke more cigarettes to get the same amount of nicotine in their blood, he said.
According to Perkins, Quest cigarettes are the only true low-nicotine brand. Quest uses genetically modified tobacco that has lower levels of nicotine.
While the misbelief persists that "lights" are healthier, the cigarette industry does not claim they are healthier. For example, the Philip Morris Web site states: "PM USA does not imply in our marketing, and smokers should not assume that lower-yielding brands are safe or safer than full-flavor brands."
Researchers believe, however, that this message has not filtered out to the public.
"I am convinced the average smoker still thinks they are safe," Perkins said.
Meanwhile, Long, the actress, finally overcame her addiction. After completing the American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program, she has been smoke-free for the past four years.
"There's no easy fix. You really have to change you're lifestyle"