Research published ahead of print in Tobacco Control reports that smokers who switched to a low tar, "lite" or "mild" brand of cigarette have about a 50 percent lower chance of giving up smoking in general.

Around 84 percent of US market share is now made up of these so-called low tar cigarettes. However, when smoked, these cigarettes deliver amounts of tar, nicotine, and other substances that are similar to "regular" cigarettes.

The research and its findings on quitting among switchers are based on almost 31,000 US smokers. In 2003, they answered a questionnaire about whether they had switched to a milder/low tar brand, and their reasons for doing so.

They were also asked if they had attempted to give up smoking altogether during the previous twelve months. They also had to answer whether they had managed to continue.

More than 29,000 people were included in the total sample. They were current smokers and almost 2,000 had given up for at least ninety days.

Overall, 12,000 people (38 percent) had switched to a lighter brand. One in four cited flavor as the primary reason. Earlier research has indicated that smokers deduce that reductions in flavor strength are reductions in harm.

However, almost one in five (18 percent) said they had switched for a combination of better flavor, wanting to smoke a less harmful cigarette, and the intention of giving up smoking altogether.

In general, 43 percent gave reasons for switching that included a desire to give up smoking altogether. Those who switched brands were 58 percent more likely to have attempted to give up smoking between 2002 and 2003 than those who stayed with their brand. But the "switchers" who attempted to quit were in fact 60 percent less likely to be successful.

In addition, those who switched for reasons that included the objective to give up smoking had the lowest chances of actually doing so.

In the whole study group (including those who tried to quit and those who did not) the overall odds of giving up smoking were 46 percent lower among those who switched to a "lighter" cigarette for any reason, than they were among those who remained with their brand.

The authors suggest that despite the apparent greater motivation to give up, switching may in fact establish smoking behavior. This therefore cuts the chances of succeeding.

Another possible explanation is that smokers who find it the most difficult to quit, imagine a lighter brand is better for their health and a good enough alternative to giving up completely.

"Switching to "lighter" cigarettes and quitting smoking"
H A Tindle, S Shiffman, A M Hartman, J E Bost
Online First Tobacco Control 2009;
doi 10.1136/tc.2008.029314
Tobacco Control

Stephanie Brunner (B.A.)

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