'Light' Cigarettes May Increase Lung Cancer Risk, Researchers Call For Ban

By Kelly Burch 05/24/17

New evidence has prompted researchers to demand that the FDA tighten regulations on cigarettes with ventilated filters. 

Close up of man smoking a cigarette

The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report found that cigarettes with ventilated filters were associated with higher rates of lung adenocarcinoma, a specific cancer of the lungs, even while other types of cancers dropped among smokers. Now, a new body of research suggests that the FDA should ban cigarettes with ventilated filters because they are more dangerous than those without filters. 

"As part of your risk counseling, tell patients who smoke that the cigarettes today are more deadly than the cigarettes from 30 or 40 years ago. We need to take away smokers' perception that any cigarette is safe. It's like putting your head in a chimney,” lead study author Peter G. Shields, MD, deputy director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Medscape.

The research, published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, concludes that, "Based on these weight-of-evidence reviews, the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] should embark on a regulatory process of data evaluation and consider regulation(s) for the use of ventilation in filters, up to and including a ban on their use.”

Researchers found 25 “causation analysis evidence blocks” that suggested that ventilated filters are associated with higher risk of lung adenocarcinoma. Researchers found that between the 1960s and the 1980s, the health risks associated with smoking doubled in men and increased ten-fold in female smokers. The risks for adenocarcinomas rose much more sharply, from 4.6-19.0 in men and from 1.5-8.1 in women, even though the risks of other types of lung cancer didn’t increase. 

"Thus, there was a paradoxical increase for lung adenocarcinomas while squamous cell cancers decreased with decreased smoking rates," the study authors wrote. 

Ventilated filters were introduced in the 1960s in order to provide a “lighter” smoke and "reduce" tar. "This was done to fool smokers and the public health community into thinking that they actually were safer," Dr Shields said in a statement.

Ventilated cigarettes change the way that tobacco combusts, resulting in more toxins in the smoke. Smokers also inhale more deeply in order to get a larger dose of nicotine, bringing smoke and the toxins that it carries into more vulnerable parts of their lungs. Finally, there is a perception that lighter cigarettes are healthier, which research has shown the opposite to be true. 

Some efforts have been made to address the dangers of ventilated cigarettes. Since 2009, the FDA has banned companies from labeling and marketing their cigarettes as “light” or “low tar.” However, researchers now believe more must be done. 

"The prime point is to rally the troops to get the FDA to focus on this," Dr. Shields told Medscape. "To me, this is a policy paper. Physicians can't be silent."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.