Monday, September 14, 2009

Low-Nicotine Cigarettes: Deadlier Than Regular Brands?

More tars, more cancer.

Now that the U.S. Congress has passed legislation enabling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor the tobacco industry for the first time in history (see my earlier post), one of the primary issues the agency must deal with are health claims on behalf of allegedly less-toxic brands of “low-nicotine” cigarettes.

It has long been understood, and demonstrated clinically, that people addicted to nicotine will smoke “light” cigarettes harder, and in greater numbers, in order to compensate and obtain the same amount of nicotine they are used to--thereby staving off withdrawal. [See graphic at right for the secret of why light cigarette smokers must puff harder.]

As prominent tobacco researcher N.L. Benowitz wrote in a National Cancer Institute (NCI) monograph:

“In brief review—when faced with lower yield cigarettes, smokers can smoke more cigarettes per day, can take more and deeper puffs, can puff with a faster draw rate, and/or can block ventilation holes. Using these last four techniques, a smoker can increase his or her smoke intake from a particular cigarette several fold above the machine-predicted yields.”

In the description of a patent for a low-tar and low-nicotine technique in 1995, Duke University Researchers wrote:

“Unfortunately, it has been discovered that only a small proportion of the total smoking population (e.g., less than 25%) has substituted low tar cigarettes (e.g., cigarettes that deliver less than 10 milligrams of tar) for conventional and more hazardous cigarettes. Also of note, only about 2.0-3.0% of total cigarette sales are accounted for by very low tar cigarettes (e.g., cigarettes that deliver less than 3 milligrams of tar). Moreover, even among the cigarette smokers who have substituted low tar cigarettes for conventional cigarettes, it has been discovered that these individuals will tend to smoke low tar cigarettes more intensively in order to extract more tar and nicotine than the nominal values listed on the pack. This, of course, defeats part of the objective of the low tar cigarettes.”|

Moreover, there has never been any significant body of evidence to suggest that switching to lights or ultra-lights in a way actually contributes to the success of smoking cessation efforts. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are no health benefits for smokers of light cigarettes, period.

In a letter published in the August 21 issue of Science, Marshall E. Deutsch argues that cigarettes with reduced nicotine may in fact “increase tobacco related death and disease” and are therefore potentially more dangerous than regular smokes.

Deutsch’s argument is that by smoking more cigarettes with lower concentration of nicotine, smokers “will be subjected to more of the ‘tars’ (the cancer-causing ingredients of the smoke) in their attempts to get their usual dosage of nicotine, (the ingredient responsible for heart disease and stroke). In the end, smokers of low-nicotine cigarettes will remain at the same risk for heart disease and stroke but increase their chances of developing cancer.”

It’s never too late to quit, and the earlier the better: The National Cancer Institute tells us that smokers who quite before age 50 cut their risk of dying by 50 % over the next 15 years, compared to those who keep smoking.

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