Labelling cigarettes as "light" or "mild" is claimed to be one of the biggest marketing scams in Canadian history. Arguably, such labelling implies that these varieties of cigarettes are less harmful than "regular" cigarettes. In Canada, a food product can be labelled "light" if there is a 25% reduction from the "reference food" and if the constituent being reduced is clearly identified (e.g., light in fat). Cigarette labelling does not comply with these regulations, however. To examine whether or not some tobacco constituents meet the 25% reduction criterion, we compared yields of 41 toxic and/or carcinogenic smoke constituents in six varieties of "light" cigarettes to the yields of "regular" cigarettes. We selected cigarettes from the two most popular Canadian brands, Du Maurier and Players.
Using a set of data provided by Imperial Tobacco Canada and made available to the public by the Government of British Columbia, we compared yields measured under a laboratory protocol (modified ISO) that was designed to provide a more rigorous evaluation of the differences between varieties of cigarettes and a more accurate assessment of smokers' potential smoke intake than the traditional protocol (standard ISO).
For all six varieties of "light" cigarettes, the yields of nicotine were higher by an average of 5% (range: 1% to 13%). The 25% reduction criterion was not met for any variety of "light" cigarettes concerning yields of tar. For all cigarettes tested, yields of tar were reduced on average by only 16% (range: 5% to 22%). For carbon monoxide (CO), only Player's Smooth Light had an over 25% reduction (30%) compared with Player's Regular. Conversely, yield of CO was 24% higher for Du Maurier Lights compared with Du Maurier Regular. As for the other smoke constituents, the majority (75%) were not reduced by 25% or more in "light" cigarettes, and a sizeable proportion of yields (e.g., acrylonitrile, benzene, chromium, m+p cresol, mercury, nickel, toluene) were larger in these varieties of cigarettes. Only yields of formaldehyde, crotonaldehyde, 1-aminonaphtalene, and proprionaldehyde were systematically reduced in all varieties of "light" cigarettes.
The six varieties of "light" cigarettes examined in this study do not differ substantially from "regular" cigarettes in terms of smoke yields. We argue that the modified ISO protocol should be implemented for a more valid comparison of potential smoke yields in all varieties of cigarettes and that labelling based on this protocol should be promoted.
Comment In: Can J Public Health. 2005 May-Jun;96(3):165-6, 18815913076