“Low-yield cigarettes” are those that tobacco manufacturers label “light,” “low,” or “mild.”
Tobacco advertisements once implied that “low-yield” cigarettes were safer than regular or “full-flavor” cigarettes.1,2 However, low-yield cigarettes are not less harmful to health than regular cigarettes.1
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 now prohibits manufacturers from selling or distributing any tobacco products that have “light,” “low,” or “mild” on their labels.3
There is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke, and there is no safe tobacco product.4
In the past, the tobacco industry categorized low-yield cigarettes using measurements of tar on standardized smoking machines.1
- Cigarette brands that yielded approximately 1–6 milligrams (mg) of tar were called “ultra light.”
- Those with approximately 6–15 mg of tar were called “light.”
- Brands yielding more than 15 mg of tar were called “regular” or “full flavor.”
The following cigarette design changes made over the past decades affected the tar and nicotine measurements:1,2,4
- Addition of different size and density filters
- Ventilation holes in the cigarettes to bring in air and dilute the smoke measured
- Chemical additives in the paper and/or tobacco
- Tobacco (i.e., using different types, blends, and curing methods)
Changes in cigarette design have not made cigarettes safe.1,5
- Changes in cigarette design have not been scientifically shown to lead to a decrease in diseases caused by smoking cigarettes.
Most people who smoke are addicted to nicotine. They may compensate when smoking low-yield cigarettes in order to take in more nicotine.1,5,6
- Many people who smoke block the ventilation holes, thus inhaling more tar and nicotine than measured by machines.
- Many people smoking low-yield cigarettes inhale longer, harder, and more frequently to get more nicotine.
- People who smoke may get as much or more tar and nicotine from cigarettes with low-yield ratings as from regular cigarettes because of the ways they compensate when smoking them.
- Many people who smoke consider smoking low-yield cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, or additive-free cigarettes to be safer than smoking regular cigarettes. However, no strong scientific evidence exists to support these beliefs.1,2,5
- Many people who smoke may have switched to low-yield brands instead of quitting.1,5,6
- Tar and nicotine levels decreased from 1954 to 1993.
- Tar decreased from 38 mg in 1954 to 12 mg in 1993; nicotine decreased from 2.7 mg to 0.95 mg.
- Tar and nicotine levels have remained stable since 1993.4
- Changes in cigarette designs over the last five decades have not reduced overall disease risk among people who smoke. In fact, they might have hindered prevention and cessation efforts.4
- Overall health of the public could be harmed if low-yield cigarette products
- encourage tobacco use among people who would otherwise be unlikely to use a tobacco product, or
- delay cessation among people who would otherwise quit using tobacco altogether.4
- National Cancer Institute. Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 13. Bethesda: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, 2001 [accessed 2021 Mar 18].
- Institute of Medicine. Clearing the Smoke: Assessing the Science Base for Tobacco Harm Prevention. Washington: National Academy Press, 2001 [accessed 2021 Mar 18].
- S. Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Use of “Light,” “Mild,” “Low,” or Similar Descriptors in the Label, Labeling, or Advertising of Tobacco Products. [PDF–161 KB] Rockville (MD): U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Tobacco Products, 2010 [accessed 2021 Mar 18].
- S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010 [accessed 2021 Mar 18].
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Light and Low Tar Cigarettes: The Essential Facts.
[PDF–464 KB] Washington: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2010 [accessed 2021 Mar 18].
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Reducing Tobacco Use: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2000 [accessed 2021 Mar 18].