Four-Year Survey Shows Cigarette Smokers Unaware of Health Risks of Low Tar and Nicotine Cigarettes

Between November 1999 and October 2003, K. Michael Cummings, PhD, MPH, and colleagues at Health Research Incorporated, Roswell Park Cancer Institute Division (Buffalo, N.Y.) surveyed adult smokers to document consumer understanding and misperceptions about:

  • The health hazards of smoking.
  • The components of cigarette smoke.
  • The safety of nicotine medications such as patches and gum.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of smokers surveyed incorrectly said that low tar and nicotine cigarettes are safer than full-flavored cigarettes or did not know whether these features made cigarettes safer.
  • About one-half of smokers surveyed incorrectly believed that nicotine causes cancer and that reducing nicotine makes smoking less dangerous.
  • Only 33 percent of smokers correctly said that nicotine patches were less likely than nicotine to cause heart attacks.
  • Smokers of top brand Marlboro Lights were unaware that a smoker of a light or ultra light cigarette receives the same amount of tar and nicotine as a smoker of regular cigarettes. Some 46 percent believed they needed to smoke two or more light cigarettes to get the amount of tar included in one regular cigarette and 40 percent did not know how many light cigarettes were the equivalent of one regular cigarette.