The fallacy of “light” cigarettes

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7440.E278 (Published 11 March 2004)
Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:E278

Get access to this article and all of bmj.com for the next 14 days

Sign up for a 14 day free trial today

Access to the full text of this article requires a subscription or payment. Please log in or subscribe below.

  1. Nancy A Rigotti, associate professor of medicine, director,
  2. Hilary A Tindle, research fellow
  1. Harvard Medical School Boston, MA, Tobacco Research and Treatment Massachussetts General Hospital Boston, MA
  2. Division of General Internal Medicine Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Harvard Medical School Boston, MA

    Low tar is not low risk

    Just 40 years ago, the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health alerted the American public to the health risks of cigarette smoking. It launched a remarkably successful public health campaign that dramatically cut adult smoking prevalence, from 42.4% in 1965 to 22.8% in 2001, and recast the cultural acceptability of tobacco use.1 Less well known is the fact that the cigarette itself has undergone major change in the past 40 years. Today's 46.2 million American smokers buy a product very different from the cigarette sold in 1964.

    In the late 1960s, tobacco manufacturers introduced “light” or “low tar” brands that yielded 7-14 mg tar per cigarette, compared to the 22 mg tar of the average cigarette sold at that time.2 Later, “ultralight” brands appeared, with tar yields below 7 mg per cigarette. Today, almost 90% of cigarettes sold in the United States are in these categories.3 Better taste is not the reason why smokers buy light cigarettes. They buy them because they have the misconception that smoking lower tar products reduces their risk of lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases.4 Advertisements for these …

    Get access to this article and all of bmj.com for the next 14 days

    Sign up for a 14 day free trial today

    Access to the full text of this article requires a subscription or payment. Please log in or subscribe below.

    Article access

    Article access for 1 day

    Purchase this article for £20 $30 €32*

    The PDF version can be downloaded as your personal record

    * Prices do not include VAT

    THIS WEEK'S POLL