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I smoke lights. Aren't they safer?

(Excerpted from New York Times News Service, May 2, 1994)

Quote: WASHINGTON--Smokers of cigarettes low in tar and nicotine may be getting more of those substances than they think, Federal Trade Commission officials and experts on smoking say. ...
National polls conducted by the Gallup organization have found that smokers believe that cigarettes labelled "light" are less hazardous and will deliver less tar and nicotine. But evidence has accumulated that the measurements, which are carried out by tobacco company laboratories under the supervision of the FTC, bear little or no relation to how much nicotine and tar smokers actually get from smoking.

"The commission has been aware for a while that the test has problems regarding the actual intake that consumers will get," Judith D. Wilkenfeld, assistant director in the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices, said in a telephone interview.

The FTC cigarette tests are carried out by machines that hold the cigarette and draw air through them in 2-second puffs once every minute until the cigarette is burned down to the filter.

But cigarettes now include several features that make the machine tests meaningless, according to Dr. Jack Henningfield, chief of clinical pharmacology research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

For example, a majority of cigarettes now have tiny, nearly invisible hole in their filter paper or in the cigarette paper near the filter. When the smoking machine draws on a cigarette, a large amount of air is drawn in, and this dilutes the smoke getting to the measuring device, making today's cigarettes appear to contain less tar and nicotine.

But smokers do not handle the cigarettes the same way machines do. They find the diluted smoke milder, and to make up for the "lighter" taste, or less satisfying amount of nicotine, they puff more or draw deeper, pulling in more total smoke, so that the result is the same amount, or more, of nicotine and tar.

In addition, the tiny filtration holes are often blocked by smokers with their lips or hands, thus cutting off the air that would have diluted the smoke....

Scientific studies over recent years have shown that smokers get about the same amount of nicotine and tar no matter what kind of cigarette they use.