If you’re a smoker who’s trying to quit by easing off the harsh sticks and puffing on “light” ones you’re greatly diminishing your chances of kicking the habit for good, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine followed more than 12,000 current and former smokers who said they’d switched to lighter brands for health reasons. The study found that the smokers were half as likely to butt out for good.
Light cigarettes are called that because they contain less nicotine and lower levels of chemicals when a machine measures the smoke.
But smokers who buy “light” tobacco products may actually haul harder on the cigs and inhale more deeply to get more nicotine.
Studies have shown that lighter smokes are just as harmful as regulars and account for about 85 percent of tobacco sales in the US.
Despite the fact critics have long charged that by branding cigarettes as “light” tobacco companies are fooling smokers into thinking they’re less harmful, Dr. Hilary A. Tindle, the study’s lead author, says there’s still a widespread misconception that the “light” products are less harmful to your health.
Of the 12,285 current or former smokers studied, 37 percent said they’d switched to light brands to reduce their health risks.
“Something needs to be done to correct people’s misconceptions,” Tindle said.
She’s calling for public service campaigns to stress the dangers of light cigarettes and for doctors to do the same when counselling patients on kicking the habit.
The researchers would also like to see warning labels point out the specific risks of smoking lights.
Dispelling ‘light’ cigarette myths:
Smoking a so-called ‘light’, ‘ultra-light’, ‘mild’, or ‘low-tar’ cigarette may seem less harmful to your health than a regular cigarette, and it may even feel lighter in your throat than a regular smoke – but be warned, the truth is that smoking light cigarettes is no better for you.
The lower tar and nicotine numbers on light cigarette packages are misleading:
- The numbers come from tests done using ‘smoking machines’, which ‘smoke’ cigarettes exactly the same way.
- The numbers don’t really tell how much tar and nicotine a particular smoker is breathing in to their body because no two people smoke the same way, and they don’t smoke the same way as the machines work.
Light cigarettes trick smoking machines into recording artificially low tar and nicotine levels:
- Tobacco companies design light cigarettes with tiny holes on the filters, which then dilute cigarette smoke with air when puffed on by smoking machines. The dilution causes the machines to record artificially low tar and nicotine levels.
- Smokers unaware that their cigarette filters have the vent holes often cover them with their lips or fingers while smoking. This results in the vents being blocked, and turns the light cigarette back into a regular cigarette.
- Some cigarette makers increase the length of paper wrap covering the filter, decreasing the number of puffs done by the machine test – and the amount of tar and nicotine measured – but making no difference in the amount of tobacco smoked by a person.
- Because smokers crave nicotine, they may compensate by smoking extra ‘light’ cigarettes each day to get enough nicotine to satisfy the craving.
Light cigarettes offer no benefit to smokers’ health:
- A U.S. National Cancer Institute study concluded that light cigarettes offer no benefit to smokers’ health.
- People who switch to light cigarettes from regular cigarettes are likely to inhale the same amount of hazardous chemicals, and they’re still at a high risk of developing smoking-related cancers and other diseases.
- There’s no evidence to suggest that switching to light or ultra-light cigarettes helps smokers break the habit.
- There’s no such thing as a safe cigarette – the only proven way to reduce the risk of smoking-related illness and disease is to quit smoking completely.
Courtesy U.S. National Cancer Institute
How to quit smoking for good:
- Psych yourself up. Tell yourself it’s possible to quit, and don’t get discouraged when the cravings hit. Set a date to quit by.
- Get rid of all smoking paraphernalia in your home and car, including ashtrays, lighters, matches and of course, your cigarettes. Make it as tough for yourself to smoke at home as possible.
- Don’t let other people smoke in your home or near you. Misery loves company.
- Review your past failures. What went wrong? How can you avoid those traps this time?
- Don’t be lulled into thinking just one more isolated puff won’t hurt. It will, and you’ll be right back on the smoking train.
- Get support. Sometimes just telling someone you’re going to quit provides you with the incentive to see it through. Many hospitals provide quitting counselling. So can your doctor.
- Learn new skills or change your behaviour. Go for a walk after a meal. Start a project to keep you busy. Change your routine. Drink a lot of fluids.
- Be aware of the side effects. They include weight gain (usually less than 10 lbs.), nervousness, irritability, and depression. They’ll pass with the addiction.
- Get medication if necessary. There are nicotine patches and nicotine gum that can be used to help the cravings pass.
- Watch the calendar. Most relapses occur after 3 months. Keep the faith and you’ll succeed.
- When you’re in the biggest crisis, remember the reasons. You’ll not only be healthier and live longer, but so will those around you. Pregnant women will benefit by having healthier babies. You won’t have to stand out in the cold at work to solve a craving. And maybe best of all, you’ll keep your hard earned tax money away from the government.
If you’re trying to quit and need some support, here are some resources that could help you kick the habit:
Ontario Smokers Help Line
To visit the website, click here.