Academic journal article College Student Journal

Are Light and Ultra-Light Cigarettes Safer: Perceptions of College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Are Light and Ultra-Light Cigarettes Safer: Perceptions of College Students

Article excerpt

The reported study investigates college students' perceptions of light compared to regular and ultra-light compared to light cigarettes, and whether perceptions vary by smoking status (nonsmoker, former smoker, social smoker, or regular smoker) and gender. A survey of 172 college students found that all four smoking status groups perceived light cigarettes to be milder and have a lighter taste, but to be no safer or healthier than regular cigarettes. This also held true when comparing ultra-light to light cigarettes. Although there were no differences by smoking status for health-related and tar/nicotine perceptions, there were several differences between nonsmokers and the smoker groups on non-health-related perceptions. The study concludes that the wide-spread assumption that lights and ultra-lights are perceived as safer is not supported by this research, regardless of smoking status. Therefore, bans on the use of the term "light" in marketing communications and devising anti-smoking messages to educate this group about the dangers of lights and ultra-lights are likely to be ineffective.


In August 2006, a federal court judge ruled that tobacco companies can no longer refer to cigarettes as light or ultra-light. If the ruling stands, it is one of the harshest blows ever against the tobacco industry because it not only bans use of descriptors such as "low tar," "light," "ultra-light" and "mild." but also requires tobacco companies to run corrective advertising (CNN Money, 2006). However, Philip Morris USA, a tobacco company, states that use of the descriptors light and ultra-light is to describe the strength of taste and flavor, rather than safety (Philip Morris USA, 2007).

Approximately 45 million Americans currently smoke cigarettes (National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2006). One of the national health objectives for 2010 is to reduce cigarette smoking among high school students to 16% or less, among adults to 12% or less, and among college students to 10.5% or less (Healthy People 2010, 2000; Healthy Campus 2010, 2002). In 2005, 23% of high school students, 21% of adults, and 24% of college students smoked at least once during the past 30 days. Non-college adults, ages 19-28, are even further away from the 12% goal with smoking rates at 29% (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2006).

Numerous studies examined the perceptions of college students toward smoking, but not their perceptions about light and ultra-light cigarettes in particular (Morrell, Cohen, Bacchi, & West, 2005; DeBarnardo & Aldinger, 1999; Everett & Husten, 1999; Wechsler, Rigotti, Gledhill-Hoyt, & Lee, 1998). Several studies examined the perceptions of adult smokers toward light and ultra-light cigarettes (Kozlowski and Pillitteri, 2001; Shiffman, Pillitteri, Barton, Rohay, & Gitchell, 2001), but only one study looked at adolescents' perceptions of lights (Kropp & Halpern-Felsher, 2004), and one study looked at college and non-college students' perceptions of lights (Richter, Pederson, & O'Hegarty, 2006). No studies have examined college students' perceptions of ultra-light cigarettes. Studies in the health literature have concluded that many smokers perceive light and ultra-light cigarettes to be safer than regular cigarettes and infer that these misperceptions are partly responsible for smoking rates remaining high despite the known risks of smoking (Etter, Kozlowski, & Perneger, 2003; Gilpin, Emery, White, & Pierce, 2002; Kozlowski et al., 1998).

College students are important to study due to their size, education, and the large number of students who smoke occasionally, a group referred to as social smokers. Although social smokers are a large segment among college students, only a few studies have compared the perceptions of regular and social smokers (Moran, Wechsler, & Rigotti, 2004). Therefore, the purpose of this exploratory study is to examine the perceptions of college students toward light cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes and ultra-light cigarettes compared to light cigarettes to assess whether students perceive these cigarettes as safer and whether their perceptions differ based on their smoking status (nonsmoker, former smoker, social smoker, or regular smoker). …

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