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Light cigarettes may not help smokers quit

November 6, 2009 |  6:00 am

Cigarette Smokers who want to quit and think a good first step is to switch to light or low-tar cigarettes are making a big mistake. A study has found that those smokers instead have about a 50% lower chance of giving up smoking.

The research, published in the November issue of Tobacco Control, analyzed survey data from about 31,000 smokers who were asked whether they had switched to a milder or low-tar brand of cigarettes and the reasons for the switch. They were queried about whether they had tried to give up smoking and if they could currently call themselves nonsmokers. Those who switched brands were 58% more likely to have attempted to give up smoking than those who stayed with one brand but were 60% less likely to successfully quit.

It's not clear why switching to light cigarettes backfires, said the authors, from the University of Pittsburgh. Switchers may have changed their behavior in ways that made quitting harder. The switchers could also be the group of people who have the most trouble quitting. Or it's possible these people decided that smoking light cigarettes was a good alternative to quitting.

Low-tar cigarettes deliver amounts of tar, nicotine and other substances that are comparable with regular cigarettes, the authors said. These so-called light products make up 84% of the market.

"Previous research has shown that smokers interpret the term 'light' to mean less toxic, an association that manufacturers have sought to exploit in advertising," the lead author of the study, Dr. Hilary Tindle, said in a news release.

People who want information on the proven, best methods for quitting can peruse the smoking cessation resources page at the National Institutes of Health.

- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Will Wintercross  /  Bloomberg News

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