I don't smoke but I have friends who do who believe that smoking "light" cigarettes is somehow better than the regular type. This is for them.

Low Tar Cigarettes – Truths you Need to Know

Cancer. Heart disease. Death. Although the risks of smoking are well-documented, millions of smokers believe that low tar cigarettes are a safer alternative to their higher tar cousins. But are low tar cigarettes, sometimes called "light" cigarettes, as safe as so many smokers believe? The answer is a clear and definitive no. Here are some truths regarding low tar tobacco products.

Are low tar cigarettes harmful to your health?

Numerous studies show that lower tar tobacco products are no safer than the regular version. Many health problems are associated with smoking "light" cigarettes.

A study of more than 1 million smokers by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) revealed that smokers indulging in low tar cigarettes had the same lung cancer risk as those who smoked medium tar cigarettes.

Another study by the ACS found that low tar products were particularly associated with the kind of lung cancer known as adenocarcinoma.

Some research showed that smokers who used low tar cigarettes had the same impairment of blood flow through the coronary arteries as participants who smoked regular cigarettes. Furthermore, light cigarettes did not reduce the risk of emphysema or heart disease.

A study amongst teens who smoked low tar cigarettes reported significantly high levels of phlegm and coughing.

How low tar is that cigarette?

The fact is: we don't really know. Tobacco companies determine tar levels in their products by using a machine that automatically smokes cigarettes in a consistent way. Many deem this measurement method to be inaccurate as people's smoking tendencies differ; for example, the machine could be taking lower levels of tar than some smokers.

Tar-reduced products typically contain lower levels of nicotine. As a result, individuals who smoke light cigarettes actually inhale smoke more deeply to compensate for the loss of nicotine, the addictive substance. They drag the tar deeper into their lungs, puff more frequently, and hold onto the drag for a longer period of time than regular cigarette smokers. Moreover, evidence shows that some low tar smokers will cover up the holes near the filter, which are specifically designed to reduce the amount of smoke inhaled, resulting in a substantial increase in smoke inhalation.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the government agency that monitors truth in advertising, stopped its endorsement of the test used to determine tar levels. It argued that the terms "light" and "low tar" provide no meaningful information to consumers with regard to tar and nicotine levels.

Do low tar cigarettes make it harder to quit the habit?

A massive study of nearly 31,000 American smokers revealed that switching to a low tar or light cigarette actually decreased the likelihood of a smoker giving up the habit.

Researchers believe that switching to low tar cigarettes ingrains smoking behaviors more deeply, making it much harder to stop. It is further believed that those who switch mistakenly feel that light brands do not have the same negative health effects as regular cigarettes, and are therefore an acceptable alternative.

Is it all about the tar?

Despite the pervasive belief that low tar cigarettes are safe, smokers need to be wary of the numerous other chemical compounds in tobacco smoke that are deemed harmful. With each puff, a smoker, and everyone in the vicinity of the smoker, is exposed to a substance list resembling a formula from Frankenstein's lab: carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, and formaldehyde, just to name a few.

Many of these chemical effects on the body are unknown, while others are well documented. For example, carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin to reduce the amount of oxygen the blood can carry. The gas also combines with nicotine to set the stage for peripheral vascular disease, a condition that affects the circulatory system and can lead to anything from coronary artery disease (CAD) to gangrene of the feet.

The Last Word

No cigarette is safe. Do not let the myth of the low tar cigarette entice you into thinking that it lowers the risk of illness and death. On a more positive note, you can substantially reduce the risk of cancer and heart problems by quitting the habit. Find an effective stop smoking solution today, and start down the path to a healthier life.

About the Author: Angela Williams provides content for Stop Smoking Help. A former smoker herself, she has remained nicotine free for 10 years.

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