Mild cigarettes offer 'no advantage' to heavy smokers - Japanese study

07/16/04

Japanese smokers who believe that consuming 'light' or 'mild' cigarette brands will substantially reduce their nicotine intake are being misled, according to an article published today in BMC Public Health. Smokers who switch to these brands need to be made aware that the health risks are still substantial.

Smokers that switch to cigarette brands that yield 0.1 mg nicotine from those that yield 1.1mg, might expect their nicotine intake to reduce by eleven-fold. Yet Atsuko Nakazawa and her colleagues from Kyoto First Red Cross Hospital discovered that the actual reduction in nicotine intake was less than two-fold.

The researchers assessed the nicotine dependence of 458 smokers, and questioned them about their smoking habits. To investigate the smokers' nicotine intake, the researchers measured the concentration of the nicotine metabolite, cotinine, in the smokers' urine.

They found that people who smoke over 40 cigarettes per day would hardly reduce their nicotine intake at all by switching to 'mild' brands.

"Smokers who are heavily dependent on nicotine obtain no advantage by smoking low-yield cigarettes," said Nakazawa. She suggests that these smokers "may actually increase their risk due to compensatory behaviour," by inhaling more carbon monoxide or tar through taking more puffs per cigarette, or increasing the depth of their inhalation.

"Current labelling practices are misleading for the two-thirds of smokers who are moderately or highly dependent on nicotine," write the researchers. They stress that the amount of nicotine in the cigarettes, as stated on the packet, does not correspond directly to the amount of nicotine consumed.

Although previous studies have shown that low-yield cigarettes can be just as hazardous as regular brands, evidence in Japanese smokers is still scarce. Furthermore, an attempt in 2002 by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan to raise awareness of the fact that actual nicotine yields are higher than those stated on packets was hindered by tobacco companies who refuted these claims in a broad advertising campaign.

Communicating the hazards of low-yield cigarettes is clearly important in Japan where over 50% of men smoke, and the majority of smokers choose 'mild' or 'light' brands.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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