Low-Tar Cigarettes Are Not A Safer Choice
Studies show smoking high-tar unfiltered cigarettes, as opposed to
medium-tar filtered cigarettes, greatly increases your risk of lung
cancer. So, cigarettes labeled as low-tar or ultra light are an even
safer choice, right? Wrong. A recent study comparing the lung cancer
risks of different types of cigarettes found this seemingly logical
assumption is false.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year,
lasted six years and involved over 900,000 Americans over the age of
30. The researchers compared the risk of death from lung cancer among
men and women who were smokers, former smokers, or had never smoked.
When analyzed according to the tar rating of cigarette smoked, the results
of the study showed the risk of lung cancer death was greatest for smokers
of high-tar unfiltered cigarettes. The risk of lung cancer death was
no different among smokers of medium-, low-, and very low-tar cigarettes.
These findings do not come as a complete surprise to researchers. A
previous study showed smokers of low-tar cigarettes compensate for the
decrease in tar level by changing their inhalation pattern. By blocking
ventilation holes in the filter, increasing the drag time, holding the
puff longer and deeper, or smoking more cigarettes, addicted smokers
may maintain their nicotine intake (and exposure to carcinogens) with
Low-tar cigarettes were not developed until the 1960s and 1970s. Ultra
light cigarettes are even newer. Many of the study’s participants
smoked medium- or high-tar cigarettes before lower tar cigarettes became
available. For this reason, it was impossible for the researchers to
evaluate the risk of lung cancer for those who exclusively smoke low
and very low-tar cigarettes. Despite this, the researchers believe low-tar
cigarettes have been around long enough and the evidence is sufficient
to suggest low-tar cigarettes carry the same risk as medium-tar. The
researchers concede additional studies involving long-term smokers of
ultra light cigarettes may reveal a difference in lung cancer occurrences.
The research also revealed current smokers, regardless of the tar level,
had a substantially higher risk of lung cancer than people who had never
smoked and people who stopped smoking by age 35. A smaller follow-up
study showed smokers of low-tar or ultra light cigarettes were more likely
to have stopped smoking ten years after the start of the initial study.
Becoming a non-smoker is difficult, but the benefits – reduced risk
of lung cancer and heart disease, to name a few - are well worth it at
any age. Switching to low-tar or ultra light cigarettes is not the answer
to reducing your risk of disease. Many methods for quitting smoking, from
nicotine patches to hypnosis or support groups, are out there to help you
achieve your goal. Contact the American Lung Association, American Heart
Association, or American Cancer Society for more information. Speak with
your doctor about which method may be right for you.
September 2004 Update
Back to Previous Page