Although many smokers believe that light cigarettes may be less harmful to their health than "regular" cigarettes, this is a myth. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), light cigarettes provide no benefit to smokers' health; people who switch to them from regular cigarettes are likely to inhale the same amount of hazardous chemicals.
Many smokers choose "low-tar," "mild," "light," or "ultra-light" cigarettes because they think that these cigarettes may be less harmful to their health than "regular" or "full-flavor" cigarettes. Although smoke from light cigarettes may feel smoother and lighter on the throat and chest, light cigarettes are not healthier than regular cigarettes. The truth is that light cigarettes do not reduce the health risks of smoking. The only way to reduce a smoker's risk, and the risk to others, is to stop smoking completely.
Tar and nicotine numbers come from smoking machines, which "smoke" every brand of cigarettes exactly the same way.
These numbers do not really tell how much tar and nicotine a particular smoker may get because people do not smoke cigarettes the same way the machines do. Also, no two people smoke the same way.
Tobacco companies designed light cigarettes with tiny pinholes on the filters. These "filter vents" dilute cigarette smoke with air when light cigarettes are "puffed" on by smoking machines, causing the machines to measure artificially low tar and nicotine levels.
Many smokers do not know that their cigarette filters have vent holes. The filter vents are uncovered when cigarettes are smoked on smoking machines. However, filter vents are placed just millimeters from where smokers put their lips or fingers when smoking. As a result, many smokers block the vents -- which actually turn the light cigarette into a regular cigarette.
Some cigarette makers increased the length of the paper wrap covering the outside of the cigarette filter, which decreases the number of puffs that occur during the machine test. Although tobacco under the wrap is still available to the smoker, this tobacco is not burned during the machine test. The result is that the machine measures less tar and nicotine levels than is available to the smoker.
Because smokers, unlike machines, crave nicotine, they may inhale more deeply; take larger, more rapid, or more frequent puffs; or smoke a few extra cigarettes each day to get enough nicotine to satisfy their craving. This is called "compensating," and it means that smokers end up inhaling more tar, nicotine, and other harmful chemicals than the machine-based numbers suggest.