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Moffitt expert weighs in on latest health study of filtered, unfiltered and light cigarettes.

It bears repeating: There is no such thing as a safe way to smoke tobacco.

Perhaps you’ve seen a recent study out of the Medical University of South Carolina that found people who smoke unfiltered cigarettes are almost twice as likely to die from lung cancer as those who smoke filtered cigarettes. The study, based on data from the 2002 National Lung Cancer Screening Trial among more than 50,000 smokers, also showed that unfiltered cigarette smokers are 30% more likely to die of all causes – not just lung cancer.

The findings were no more encouraging for those who smoke light or ultra-light versions of filtered cigarettes. They are just as likely to die from lung cancer as those who smoke regular cigarettes, but were less likely to be able to quit.

Dr. Matthew Schabath

Dr. Matthew Schabath Cancer Epidemiology

Moffitt researcher Dr. Matthew Schabath said these grim facts have been known for decades and proven repeatedly in cancer research.  He said the only new element to the story is that these findings were confirmed in a large scale study originally designed to compare the value of early lung cancer screening methods among smokers.

Schabath said the quest for a “safer” cigarette dates back to the mid-1950s when filters were first introduced. “Rather than decreasing risk of lung cancer, the introduction of filtered cigarettes actually contributed to a temporal shift in the specific types of lung cancer subsequently diagnosed,” said Schabath. Prior to filters, most lung cancers were squamous cell carcinomas found in the windpipe or its adjoining large branches in the lung.  “By using filtered cigarettes, tobacco smoke disperses deeper into the lungs due to deeper inhalation,” Schabath explained. This led to increasing prevalence of a different type of lung cancer, called adenocarcinoma, which occurs further along the lungs’ many branch-like passages. Among men, the incidence rate for lung adenocarcinoma surpassed squamous cell carcinoma around 1994.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, with cigarette smoking alone killing more than 480,000 Americans each year.

The bottom line, said Schabath, is that there is no such thing as a “safer” cigarette, nor are the alternatives to cigarette smoking like cigars, pipes, and water pipes any safer.