Objectives: To assess the knowledge of smokers and ex-smokers about light cigarettes and nicotine yields and their perception of the risk of lung cancer, and to identify the characteristics of smokers of light cigarettes.
Methods: Mail survey in a population sample of 494 smokers and exsmokers in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1999.
Results: Participants were on average 40 years old, and 49% were men. They estimated that one would have to smoke two light cigarettes or four ultralight cigarettes in order to inhale the same amount of nicotine as that in one regular cigarette. Most participants (60%) answered that the risk of lung cancer was the same, but 27% answered that this risk was lower in smokers of light cigarettes than in smokers of regular cigarettes. The most frequent answer (41% of answers) to an open-ended question on the meaning of the number of milligrams of nicotine printed on cigarette packs was that this number indicated the nicotine content in cigarettes, rather than a machine-determined yield in smoke. In a multivariate model, smoking mild, light, or ultralight (vs regular) cigarettes was associated with females, a lower Fagerström dependence score, an intention to quit smoking, and an intention to decrease cigarette consumption.
Conclusions: Many smokers choose light cigarettes because they think that such cigarettes are safer or less addictive. The public should be further informed of the meaning and purpose of cigarette labels.