The Truth About 'Light' Ciggys

Sen. Frank Lautenberg is pushing into the open something most smokers already knew: There really isn't much of a health benefit to smoking those cigarettes labeled "light" or "low tar."

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Antismokers, and especially reformed smokers, should give Sen. Frank Lautenberg a long applause today for pushing into the open something most already knew: There really isn't much of a health benefit to smoking those cigarettes labeled "light" or "low tar." Today, he and the Senate Commerce Committee host a hearing to push his "Truth in Cigarette Labeling Act" that would prohibit tobacco companies from using words "light" or "low tar" on their products. He plans to unveil some pretty interesting stuff.

First, he expects officials from the Federal Trade Commission to explain that their old tests of light and regular cigarettes were flawed. They used to use a robot that "smoked" the cigarettes and then measured the tar delivered. Those tests found that low-tar ciggys were better for smokers, prompting a major shift to the light cigarettes. But as smokers know—and a memo from Philip Morris agrees—smokers of light cigarettes inhale deeper. So a Marlboro Light delivers pretty much the same tar as a Marlboro red, for example.

None of this should be a surprise, which may explain why big tobacco wasn't planning to testify as of this morning. But the hearing may be what the New Jersey senator needs to push his bill along. Says an aide: "His hope is that by the FTC admitting how flawed their tests are and by proving how cigarette makers manipulated their products to beat the tests, the act becomes a necessity. Consumers need clear, accurate information about what is going into their bodies."