The Truth About “Light” Cigarettes: Questions and Answers

  • The lower tar and nicotine numbers on light cigarette packs and in ads are misleading.
  • Light cigarettes trick the smoking machines so that they record artificially low tar and nicotine levels (see Question 2).
  • Light cigarettes provide no benefit to smokers’ health.
  • Resources are available for people who want to quit smoking.

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.

  1. What about the lower tar and nicotine numbers on light and ultra-light cigarette packs and in ads for these products?

  2. How do light cigarettes trick the smoking machines?

  3. What is the scientific evidence about the health effects of light cigarettes?

  4. Have the tobacco companies conducted research on the amount of tar and nicotine people actually inhale while smoking light cigarettes?

  5. What is the bottom line for smokers who want to protect their health?

  6. What resources are available on smoking cessation?
  7. For more information about smoking and advice on quitting, contact:

    Web site:
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Web site:

    National Cancer Institute

    Smoking Quitline 1–877–44U–QUIT

    This fact sheet is a joint effort of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.


Doll R, Peto R, Boreham J, et al. Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years’ observations on male British doctors. BMJ 2004; 328: 1519.

National Cancer Institute. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 13: Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine. Bethesda, MD: NCI, 2001.