Lights (cigarette type)
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Cigarettes labeled as “Lights,” “Milds,” or “Low-tar,” are considered to have a “lighter,” less pronounced flavour than regular cigarettes. These cigarette brands may also contain lower levels of tar, nicotine, or other chemicals inhaled by the smoker. However, the scientific evidence is that switching from regular to light or low-tar cigarettes does not reduce the health risks of smoking or lower the smoker’s exposure to the nicotine, tar, and carcinogens present in cigarette smoke.
The filter design, which may include perforated holes, is one of the main differences between light and regular cigarettes. In some light cigarettes, the filter is perforated with small holes that theoretically diffuse the tobacco smoke with clean air. In regular cigarettes, the filter does not include these perforations. In ultra-light cigarettes, the filter’s perforations are larger, and in theory, these larger holes produce an even smaller smoke to air ratio.
Usage of descriptors such as "light" or "mild" has had been banned in the European Union, Malaysia, and the U.S. Tobacco manufacturers in some countries with this type of legislation are turning to colour-coding to allow consumers to differentiate between regular and light brands.
- 1 History
- 2 Market share
- 3 Health claims
- 4 Legislation regarding light cigarettes
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
The 1950s gave birth to numerous scientific studies that proved the link between cigarettes and cancer (see Wynder and Graham, 1950; Doll and Hill, 1952, 1954; Hammond and Horn, 1958). In response to these studies and their perceived threat to the tobacco industry’s future profitability, tobacco companies experimented with new modifications to the cigarette design. By altering the cigarette design, tobacco companies hoped to create a "safer" cigarette that would better appeal to their increasingly health-conscious consumers. The addition of filters to cigarettes was one of the industry’s first design modifications, and filters would become essential to the later development of light and low-tar products. Claiming that filtered cigarettes literally “filtered out” much of the harmful tar and carcinogenic particles found in regular cigarettes, tobacco companies promoted “relative product safety” in order to convince smokers to continue smoking. Because filtered cigarettes were depicted as relatively “safer” and “less harmful,” smokers who were concerned about tobacco’s negative health impacts were led to believe that by switching to filtered cigarettes, they would minimize smoking's detrimental impact on their health; as a result, millions of addicted smokers switched to filtered cigarettes instead of quitting altogether. By 1960, filtered cigarettes had become the leading tobacco product.
Creation of the "light" cigarette
In addition to heavily promoting the filtered cigarette as the answer to smokers’ health concerns, the industry also poured resources into developing a cigarette that would produce lower machine-measured tar and nicotine yields when tested by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This endeavor resulted in the introduction and heavy promotion of light cigarettes during the 1970s. The newly designed light cigarette employed a special filter perforated with small holes; these perforated filters allegedly offset the concentration of inhaled harmful smoke with clean air. Most important to the tobacco industry, however, was that light cigarettes produced lower tar and nicotine levels when tested with the FTC’s smoking machines.
By 1997, the advertising of light cigarettes constituted fifty percent of the industry’s advertising spending. Through heavy marketing, the tobacco industry succeeded in misleading its consumer base to believe that light products were safer than regular brands, and thus, that these products were the rational choice for smokers who cared about their health. As a result of these implicit and widespread health claims, the popularity of light and low-tar cigarettes grew considerably. In fact, the market share of light cigarettes grew from a mere 2.0 percent in 1967 to 83.5 percent of the tobacco market in 2005. Due to recent federal regulations requiring that the tobacco industry’s internal documents be made publicly available online, there is no doubt about the industry’s underlying motives behind the development of light products. These documents explicitly state that the industry sought to both maintain and expand its consumer base by manipulating smokers’ health concerns to the industry’s advantage.
ISO machine-smoking method
Packages of light, mild, and low-tar cigarettes are often labeled as being “lower tar and nicotine” and also list tar and nicotine levels that are lower than those found on the packages of regular cigarettes. The lower tar and nicotine numbers found on cigarette packages represent the levels produced when machine “smoked” by a smoking machine test method. Developed by the FTC in 1967, the smoking machine test method was created to determine the yield of a cigarette by “smoking” it in a standardized fashion by machine; this test method is also known as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) machine-smoking method. While the FTC has always recognized that the smoking machine did not replicate human smoking and that no two human smokers smoke in the same way, the FTC did not initially recognize the tobacco industry’s ability to design cigarettes that yielded low levels of tar and nicotine when machine-smoked, but yielded much higher levels when smoked by a human being.
Cigarette modifications and "compensatory" smoking
Light cigarettes essentially fool smoking machines through several techniques. A light cigarette’s filter perforated by tiny holes, for instance, is uncovered when smoked by machine, and consequently, the cigarette smoke is heavily diluted with air and causes the machines to report falsely low levels of nicotine and tar. When smoked by human smokers, in contrast, this filter is usually covered by smokers’ lips and fingers. Consequently, the tiny filter holes are covered, and the light cigarette actually becomes equivalent to a regular cigarette. Some tobacco manufacturers also increased the length of the paper wrap which covers the cigarette filter; this modification serves to decrease the number of “puffs” available to the machine test and limits the amount of tobacco that is machine “smoked.” In reality, however, the tobacco found under this paper wrap which is not “smoked” by machine is still available to and smoked by the human smoker.
The human act of "compensating" is perhaps the most important method by which light cigarettes cheat the ISO machine-smoking method. Unlike machines, human smokers are often heavily addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, and consequently, smokers alter their smoking behaviors in order to consume the amount of nicotine required to satisfy their cravings. Compensatory behavior especially occurs if a smoker switches from regular cigarettes to light cigarettes. Numerous scientific studies reveal that the smoker actually “compensates” for the lower amount of nicotine by actively changing his or her smoking habits and even increasing the number of cigarettes that are smoked per day. Smokers adjust their smoking techniques by smoking their cigarettes “more intensively.” More intensive smoking is achieved by taking larger, more rapid, and more frequent puffs, by inhaling more deeply, by smoking more cigarettes per day, and/or by reflexively blocking the cigarette’s filter. Due to these compensatory smoking behaviors, smokers inhale significantly more nicotine and tar levels than what are measured by the ISO machine-smoking method.
With these factors in mind, it is unsurprising that switching from regular to light or low-tar cigarettes does not reduce the health risks of smoking or lower the smoker’s exposure to the nicotine, tar, and carcinogens present in cigarette smoke. According to the 2004 Surgeon General’s report, “Smoking cigarettes with lower machine-measured yields of tar and nicotine provides no clear benefit to health.” The tobacco industry’s own internal documents, too, reveal that cigarette manufacturers are more than aware of the difference between machine-measured levels of nicotine and tar, and those actually inhaled by smokers. The industry is equally aware of the compensatory behaviors that smokers engage in when smoking light cigarettes. Nonetheless, these health truths are not widely publicized or understood by the average smoking population, and even today, the tobacco industry's implicit health claims lead countless smokers to switch from regular cigarettes to light cigarettes, rather than quitting altogether.
Research into low-nicotine cigarettes and effects on smoking frequency
A recent small-scale study led by nicotine researcher Neal Benowitz found that smokers who were switched to cigarettes with tobacco that contained progressively less nicotine did not compensate by smoking more cigarettes, although a significant minority of the smokers in the research withdrew from the study citing a dislike of the taste of the reduced-nicotine cigarettes. These results differ greatly from those obtained in earlier studies by Benowitz and others, where filter-based nicotine reduction was found to result in compensatory smoking behaviours. According to a USCF article on the study, Benowitz wanted to simulate a societal scenario in which the nicotine content of cigarettes would be progressively regulated downward.
According to a more recent Washington Post article, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has backed low-nicotine cigarette research as it weighs its new regulatory power. That new power includes the power to regulate the level of nicotine in cigarettes and was given to the FDA by the 2009 Tobacco Control Act, described below.
Legislation regarding light cigarettes
In June 2009, the United States Senate passed anti-smoking legislation described by USA Today as “the most sweeping tobacco-control measure ever passed by Congress,” and this legislation directly impacts the marketing and consumption of light tobacco products. In addition to giving the FDA regulatory power over all tobacco products, the bill severely restricts the tobacco industry’s previous marketing strategies, many of which relied on making implicit health claims about their products. According to the bill, cigarette manufacturers are also forbidden from using product descriptors such as “light,” “low-tar,” and “mild.”
Critics of the legislation question whether it will have a significant impact on today’s pervasive tobacco market. For one, the bill does not specify acceptable words for differentiating light cigarettes from other cigarettes. Cigarette manufacturers quickly responded to this loophole by strategically color-coding their products so that Camel Lights, for example, is now Camel Blue. Nik Modi, a tobacco industry analyst, concedes that prohibiting terms like "light" and "low-tar" will hardly affect the tobacco market because smokers have already “become acclimated to color-coding.”
- "Nicotine, Tar, And Co Content Of Domestic Cigarettes". Retrieved 2 November 2013.
- U.S. National Institute of Health, 2004
- Benowitz 2005, p. 1
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- Risk 2001, p. 5
- NCI's Smoking 2007, p. 4
- Risk 2001, p. 2
- NCI's Smoking 2007, p. 5
- Risk 2001, p. 3
- qtd. in NCI's Smoking 2007, p. 7
- Duff 2009
- qtd. in Koch 2009
- Benowitz, Neal L., Peyton Jacob III, John T. Bernert, Margaret Wilson, Langing Wang, and Delia Dempsey. "Carcinogen Exposure during Short-term Switching from Regular to "Light" Cigarettes." Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 14 (2005): 1376-383. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/14/6/1376.full>.
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- Gilpin, Elizabeth A., Sherry Emery, Martha M. White, and John P. Pierce. "Does Tobacco Industry Marketing of 'light' Cigarettes Give Smokers a Rationale for Postponing Quitting?" Oxford Journals 4.2 (2002): S147-155. Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 9 Aug. 2001. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org>.
- Koch, Wendy. "Senate Passes the Most Sweeping Tobacco-control Bill." USA Today. USA Today, 11 June 2009. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-06-11-tobacco-control-bill_N.htm>.
- NCI’s Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 13. “Research Findings Concerning So-Called Low Tar or ‘Light’ Cigarettes” (2007) (testimony of Cathy Backinger). Web. 22 Apr. 2010. <http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/tcrb/documents/Backinger111307.pdf>.
- Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine. Monograph 13 ed. [Bethesda, MD]: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, 2001. Smoking and Tobacco Control. Web. 22 Apr. 2010. <http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/tcrb/monographs/13/>.
- U.S. National Institutes of Health. NCI Fact Sheet: The Truth About "Light" Cigarettes: Questions and Answers. Rep. no. 10.17. National Cancer Institute, 17 Aug. 2004. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/light-cigarettes>.
- Wilson, Duff. "Senate Approves Tight Regulation Over Cigarettes." New York Times. 11 June 2009. Web. 22 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/12/business/12tobacco.html>.
- Brandt, Allan M. 2007. The cigarette century: The rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America. New York: Basic Books.
- Legacy Tobacco Document Library
- NCI Factsheet: The Truth About "Light" Cigarettes
- Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
- ISO Tobacco and Tobacco Products
- How To Quit Smoking