Light Cigarettes Are Not Safer

ByABC News
November 26, 2001, 4:05 PM

Nov. 27 -- Smokers who have switched to light or low-tar cigarettes with the belief that they are safer than regular cigarettes have been mistaken, says a new report from the National Cancer Institute.

The report, titled Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Tar Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine, is the 13th in a series of comprehensive reports on Smoking and Tobacco Control, which began in 1991.

"This report is one that has brought together scientists of various disciplines and has concluded that there are significant health risks from switching to low-tar, light cigarettes," says Scott Leischow, chief of the National Cancer Institute Tobacco Control Research Branch.

Light cigarettes have been around for 20 years and have led some people to believe that they are healthier alternatives to regular cigarettes. And who wouldn't want to inhale less tar when given the opportunity?

"Many people feel that if they are not able to quit smoking but are concerned about their health, low-tar cigarettes are a compromise," says Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco and co-scientific editor of the report that challenges this notion.

Smoking is the number one preventable cause of premature death in the United States, responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tobacco Information and Prevention Source.

Removing Misconceptions

According to Benowitz, light cigarettes are made of the same substances as their full tar brethren. The distinguishing factor is the engineering.

Low-tar cigarettes can be made with porous paper and more loosely packed tobacco in an effort to reduce tar intake, but past research has shown that people are easily able to circumvent such designs.

"There are actually four different ways that smokers can make a low yield cigarette higher yield," says Benowitz, who published one of the first papers on the subject in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1983.