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'Light' Cigarettes Don't Help Smokers

Smoking low-tar and low-nicotine — or "light" — cigarettes may actually make it harder for smokers to kick the habit.

A new study shows that people who smoke light cigarettes are more than 50 percent less likely to quit smoking than those who smoke regular cigarettes.

"Even though smokers may hope to reduce their health risks by smoking lights, the results suggest they are doing just the opposite because they are significantly reducing their chances of quitting. Moreover, as they get older their chances of quitting become more and more diminished," says researcher Hilary D. Tindle, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a news release. Tindle conducted the research while at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

'Light' Cigarettes May Mislead Smokers

In the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers analyzed the results of a survey of more than 12,000 current and former smokers conducted in 2000 in the U.S.

More than a third said they had used light cigarettes in an attempt to reduce the health risks associated with cigarette smoking, which include an increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer. Most of the light cigarette smokers were female, highly educated, and white.

The study also showed that smokers who had used light cigarettes were 54 percent less likely to have successfully quit smoking than those who had never smoked light cigarettes.

This effect increased with increasing age, and adults aged 65 and over who had smoked light cigarettes to reduce health risks were 76 percent less likely to quit than those who smoked only regular cigarettes.

Researchers say the findings are particularly disturbing because the more than 30 million Americans who smoked light cigarettes may be under the false impression that it reduces their health risk; they are actually increasing their health risks by continuing to smoke rather than quitting.

"Because smoking is such a major cause of death and disability in this country and worldwide, we believe that it is critical to give smokers accurate information on the potentially detrimental effects of the use of lights to reduce health risks and the potential impact on subsequent smoking cessation," says Tindle.

SOURCES: Tindle, H. American Journal of Public Health, June 29, 2006, online edition; Vol. 96. News release, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
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