Study finds light cigarettes are no safer than regular

The study of carcinogen intake used people instead of machines.

Jerret Raffety

Light cigarettes are no healthier than regular cigarettes, according to a University study published Tuesday.

The study, completed by the University Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center and the University Cancer Center, found that light, ultra-light and regular cigarettes all contain the same amount of the carcinogens that cause smoking-related cancers.

“Many smokers are led to believe that light and ultra-light cigarettes are safer because the name implies that they have less cancer-causing toxins,” said Dorothy Hatsukami, a department of psychiatry professor who worked on the study.

“The goal of this study was to let people know that light and ultra-light cigarettes are not safer products.”

Researchers measured the remains of two carcinogens, known as NNK and PAH, in urine samples from 175 smokers. Smokers in the study were from ages 18 to 80 and used regular, light and ultra-light cigarettes of several brands, Hatsukami said.

Though light and ultra-light cigarettes have less tar and nicotine, the study found the amounts of the carcinogens were equal, Hatsukami said.

Studies by other agencies have shown light and regular cigarettes pose the same health risks.

This University study is the first to directly prove the amount of carcinogens that enter the body through light cigarettes and regular cigarettes are the same, said Dr. Stephen Hecht, a Cancer Center professor who worked on the study.

Hecht said the study of carcinogen intake and light cigarettes used people instead of machines. It gives a more accurate look at typical smoking behavior, he said.

“Basically, people smoke for nicotine, and if a cigarette doesn’t yield as much nicotine, smokers will compensate for this by smoking more cigarettes and taking longer puffs,” Hatsukami said.

Some light-cigarette smokers cover the ventilation holes near the filter. The holes, which are not present on all light cigarettes, divert smoke out of the smoker’s lungs. Covering them reverses that process, Hatsukami said.

Some student smokers on campus Tuesday said they smoke light cigarettes but not because they think those are healthier.

Vanessa Ross, a College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences junior, is one of those students.

“They all taste the same, but I choose lights because they’re not as harsh,” Ross said.

She said the study’s results will not change her buying habits.

Tobacco companies said they don’t believe that names, such as “light” and “ultra-light,” imply a healthier cigarette.

“There’s no such thing as a safe cigarette,” said Jennifer Golisch, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris USA.

“Light” and “ultra-light” are intended to be marketing terms so customers can distinguish the “strength of taste and flavor,” not the health risks among cigarettes, she said.

She and David Howard, an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. spokesman, said their companies have no plans to change the naming of their products.