Machines used to determine whether a type of cigarette is 'low tar', 'light' or 'ultralight' may be giving out inaccurate information.
This, say American scientists, is because the standard smoking machine was invented in the 1930s, when all cigarettes were unfiltered, of a uniform length and generally similar to each other. Today, cigarettes vary greatly in size, tobacco blends and degree of filter ventilation. This means that old standards to determine tar levels are no longer relevant, and some smokers may be getting more tar in each puff than they think.
New European Union (EU) guidelines limiting the maximum amount of tar in a cigarette to 10 mg and the maximum allowable nicotine to 1.0 mg are due to come into force soon.
However, say the authors, since the old style smoking machines may be giving misleading results, those 'low tar' brands often promoted as a 'healthy' alternative are probably no better for you than regular types.
Researchers are now urging the use of a two stage test which, they say, can give more accurate results (Lancet, 2000; 355: 2159-61).