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Is There Such a Thing As a Safer Cigarette?

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In previous postings I’ve discussed the fact that so-called “light” or “low-tar” cigarettes are no less harmful than “regular” cigarettes. However, in recent years we have seen the launch and marketing of a number of cigarette brands that either directly claim or imply that they may be less harmful than regular cigarettes.

For example, the manufacturers of “Omni” cigarettes have claimed that they produce lower levels of many carcinogens and others toxins to which smokers are exposed. However, this research measures only a few of the more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke that are harmful to humans and it is based on how Omni cigarettes are smoked by machines, not human beings. One of the main lessons from studying “Light” cigarettes is that smokers don’t smoke them like machines, and so what typically happens is that as emissions of a few chemicals goes down, so emissions of other chemicals increase. For example, a study by Professor John Hughes (University of Vermont) found that people who switch to Omni inhaled around 20% more carbon-monoxide.

Another cigarette that has claimed to deliver fewer carcinogens is “Eclipse”, manufactured by RJ Reynolds in the USA. This cigarette is different in that it is designed to primarily heat the tobacco and nicotine rather than burn it. Again, however, studies have found that this cigarette, while likely delivering lower levels than some toxins (including nicotine) than a regular cigarette, tends to give the smoker higher levels of carbon-monoxide. A more detailed report on the eclipse cigarette is available at: http://tobaccofreekids.org/reports/eclipse/

Similar results have been found with “Quest” cigarettes, which are available in three varieties with lower and lower nicotine levels. As smokers switch to the lower nicotine containing variety so they take larger puff volumes and absorb higher levels of carbon-monoxide per cigarette in order to try to obtain their usual dose of nicotine. The simple lesson from decades of research trying to develop a safer cigarette is that if you light anything with a match and then inhale the smoke resulting from burning of the product, then it will deliver an unavoidably toxic cocktail of thousands of chemicals to your lungs and the rest of your body. The same is true for some of the more recent brands that have been launched (e.g. Marlboro Smooth). The only safe cigarette is an unlit one, and the best thing a smoker can do to improve their health is to quit smoking completely.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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