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Health impact of “reduced yield” cigarettes: a critical assessment of the epidemiological evidence
  1. Michael J Thuna,
  2. David M Burnsb
  1. aAmerican Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, bDepartment of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, California, USA
  1. Michael J Thun MD, American Cancer Society, 1599 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30329–4251, USAmthun{at}


Cigarettes with lower machine measured “tar” and nicotine yields have been marketed as “safer” than high tar products over the last four decades, but there is conflicting evidence about the impact of these products on the disease burden caused by smoking. This paper critically examines the epidemiological evidence relevant to the health consequences of “reduced yield” cigarettes. Some epidemiological studies have found attenuated risk of lung cancer but not other diseases, among people who smoke “reduced yield” cigarettes compared to smokers of unfiltered, high yield products. These studies probably overestimate the magnitude of any association with lung cancer by over adjusting for the number of cigarettes smoked per day (one aspect of compensatory smoking), and by not fully considering other differences between smokers of “high yield” and “low yield” cigarettes. Selected cohort studies in the USA and UK show that lung cancer risk continued to increase among older smokers from the 1950s to the 1980s, despite the widespread adoption of lower yield cigarettes. The change to filter tip products did not prevent a progressive increase in lung cancer risk among male smokers who began smoking during and after the second world war compared to the first world war era smokers. National trends in vital statistics data show declining lung cancer death rates in young adults, especially males, in many countries, but the extent to which this is attributable to “reduced yield” cigarettes remains unclear. No studies have adequately assessed whether health claims used to market “reduced yield” cigarettes delay cessation among smokers who might otherwise quit, or increase initiation among non-smokers. There is no convincing evidence that past changes in cigarette design have resulted in an important health benefit to either smokers or the whole population. Tobacco control policies should not allow changes in cigarette design to subvert or distract from interventions proven to reduce the prevalence, intensity, and duration of smoking.

  • tar and nicotine
  • lung cancer
  • changing cigarette
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  • Authors' correction

    Readers should please note that the legend to Figure 1 and the text in the sixth line of the second paragraph of the section headed 'Compensatory smoking' should say, "Each milligram decrease in machine-measured nicotine .." rather than  "Each milligram decrease in machine-measured tar..."

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