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"Light" Cigarettes Smokers Less Likely to Quit
  • NewScientist.com news service
  • Roxanne Khamsi
  • People who smoke “light” cigarettes in the belief they are reducing the health risks associated with smoking are 50% less likely than those smoking regular cigarettes to kick the habit, suggests a new study.

    The researchers who conducted the study say it demonstrates widespread misconceptions about light cigarettes.

    There is no such thing as a safe cigarette, says Hilary Tindle at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who led the large-scale study. “I think there’s a lot of confusion about the word ‘light’ and the tobacco industry has taken advantage of this,” she says.

    Recent studies have shown that people smoking low-tar cigarettes face the same risk of developing lung cancer as those who smoke regular ones. And it is the false perception that such cigarettes do less harm that makes people less likely to quit, the researchers found.

    They analysed answers from more than 12,000 smokers who participated in a US health survey in 2000. More than a third of the respondents had switched to cigarettes with low amounts of tar and nicotine or had always smoked them in the belief that they were healthier.

    People who smoked this type of cigarette were also more likely to have a history of heart disease. “Those people need to be quitting,” says Tindle.

    Healthy alternative

    Her group found that people who smoked light cigarettes because they perceived them to be a healthy alternative were 50% less likely to quit than their counterparts who stuck to regular cigarettes.

    She notes that one limitation of the study is that it only took a snapshot, rather than following the participants over time, so it is difficult to pin down the cause and effect of this association.

    The results could be skewed by the fact older smokers are more likely to have quit – given they have had more time to do so – and less likely to choose light brands because these only became widely available in the 1970s.

    But Tindle’s team did a further analysis and found that older smokers were 70% less likely to quit if they smoked cigarettes with low tar and nicotine content than if they chose standard cigarettes.

    The findings of the study are significant, says Keith Haddock at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, Missouri, US, whose 2004 study of smoking among young adults joining the military found a similar association (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol 27, p 35).

    “The new study shows that it’s a universal phenomenon, and that was always the fear,” he says of the link between “light” cigarettes and failure to quit smoking.

    Journal reference: American Journal of Public Health (DOI: 10.2105/ajph.2005.07285)

    Source Newscientist.com