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Lung Cancer

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Nothing Light About 'Light' Cigarettes

A report recently issued by the National Cancer Institute proves what many people have suspected all along: "light" cigarettes are more a marketing ploy, than an attempt to make smoking safer.

Light and ultralight cigarettes produce lower amounts of tar and nicotine than regular cigarettes when smoked by testing machines. However, this is not the case when a person uses them. This is due to the smoker's desire to get as much of the harmful chemicals as possible, and from the design of the cigarette. Because smokers are addicted to nicotine, not the act of smoking, they usually inhale harder on light cigarettes or simply smoke more of them to get their fix. And the way the cigarettes are designed- with ventilation holes placed where smokers' fingers or lips easily block them - means smokers are often inhaling harder than necessary, regardless of whether or not they are craving more nicotine.

In the 1960s and '70s, studies on light cigarettes showed promising results. Smokers using the reduced strength cigarettes had lower risk of lung cancer risk than those using the full-strength tobacco products. The increasing use of light products was expected to further decrease smoking-related diseases. Unfortunately, this has not come to pass. Lung cancer rates rose until the early 90s. And it was a decrease in smoking in general—not tobacco light—that has caused the decline seen since then.
December 2001 Update

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Low Cholesterol Doesn't Make Smoking Safer

The incidence and toll of heart disease is increasing throughout the world, including in places you might not expect. For example, in the 1990s atherosclerotic heart disease became the leading cause of death in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). This may seem surprising because in East Asia, people tend to be leaner and have lower blood cholesterol levels. But in these countries, another potent risk factor for heart disease, cigarette smoking, is rampant. Seventy-two percent of Korean men, 50% of Chinese men, and 58% of Japanese men smoke.

In a recent study, researchers analyzed the interaction among heart disease risk factors in 106,675 Korean men who underwent insurance evaluations between 1990 and 1992. Most of these men (58%) were current cigarette smokers, and 60% had "healthy" total cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL. During a six-year follow-up period, 3% of the men were either admitted to the hospital for a cardiovascular problem or died of heart disease. When compared to men who never smoked cigarettes, current and former smokers were roughly 1.5 times more likely to suffer from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease — even those smokers with the lowest cholesterol level (below 171 mg/dL) were at greatly increased risk.

Clearly, the message is that smoking is a significant and dangerous factor for heart disease. But the logical extension is that a good cholesterol level doesn't cancel out the effects of other heart disease risk factors, smoking included.

For more information on the dangers of smoking see page 58 of the Family Health Guide.

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