Harvard Researchers Say Light Cigarette Smokers Actually Less Likely to Quit

By Dr. Joseph Mercola

Surprising Findings

Some remarkable findings were unearthed in a recent study evaluating the effects of smoking light cigarettes, with important implications for those who smoke, and their friends and family members.

The study was conducted by doctors and scientists at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Using data from a recent National Health Interview Survey, the researchers analyzed over 32,000 responses from current and former smokers, including whether they'd ever smoked light cigarettes.

The results, published in the American Journal of Public Health, revealed that individuals who have smoked light cigarettes are 54 percent less likely to quit than those who haven't smoked light cigarettes. Why? People who smoke light cigarettes believe that doing so reduces their health risks. They view smoking low-nicotine/low-tar cigarettes as a viable alternative to quitting smoking altogether.

Unfortunately, this inaccurate belief may lead to serious health consequences. According to the National Cancer Institute, light cigarettes provide no health benefit over regular cigarettes. People who smoke light cigarettes inhale the same hazardous chemicals as those who smoke regular cigarettes. They also have the same high risks for developing smoking-related cancers.

If you smoke, or if you have a close friend or family member who does, it's important that you read this article or pass it along to your loved one.

What are the Implications?

The facts are clear. The only way to reduce the health risks of smoking is to quit smoking. If you think that you're decreasing your health risks or making it easier to quit by smoking light cigarettes, you're on the wrong track. As this study demonstrates, smoking light cigarettes doesn't offer an easy transition into quitting. On the contrary, it makes quitting less likely.

Quitting smoking is hard enough to do as it is. About 90 percent of smokers are clinically addicted to smoking. People who try to quit smoking without any outside help typically have a success rate of less than 5 percent.

As Mark Twain once said, "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times." Those who do succeed at quitting usually try a number of times -- an average of half a dozen, in fact -- before they finally make it.

Weighing the Options

If you're serious about quitting smoking, you need a serious approach, one that's proven to work. When you're ready to take that critical action to improve your health and lifestyle, what are your options?

The most well known way to quit smoking is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), colloquially known as "going on the patch." "The patch" provides nicotine to the smoker, without imposing the harmful effects of smoking.

This enables the person to focus on breaking the psychological habit of smoking, without also having to fight the unpleasant effects of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. NRT is available in a number of a different delivery methods, including nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, nicotine nasal spray, and nicotine inhalers.

Another method is prescription medication, such as Zyban. Zyban (or its generic form, Bupropion) is a prescription anti-depressant. It reduces symptoms of nicotine withdrawal by interacting with chemicals in the brain that cause nicotine craving. It doesn't contain nicotine, so it can be used at the same time as nicotine replacement therapy.

Behavior modification therapy is yet another approach. Behavior modification programs vary widely, but their general concept is based on reinforcing positive behaviors and breaking negative habits. Practitioners use techniques to make smoking seem undesirable, or to emotionally reward patients for not smoking.

So do these strategies work?

The answer is: to an extent. Studies show that using any one of these programs by itself offers an average success rate of 25 percent. Since the success rate for those who try to quit on their own is only 2 percent to 5 percent, this is clearly an improvement.

On the other hand, multiple research studies have shown success rates of 66 percent for smoking cessation hypnosis occurring over four sessions. Compared with the 25 percent success rate of other methods, this is an impressive statistic.

In fact, when experienced over four sessions or more, hypnosis has the best documented success rates of any other method for quitting smoking.

Conclusion: Incorporate More Than One Method

The best strategy for quitting smoking is to adopt a program that incorporates more than one method. There are a large number of choices but there is compelling research that demonstrated hypnosis has the highest success rates for helping people to quit smoking. So if you are seroius about stopping it would seem prudent to investigate all your options and add hypnosis to your short list of possible options.


Fiske, S. (2003). Butt out: Quit smoking. [Electronic Version]. Psychology Today, Mar/Apr, 1-2.

Hammond, D.C. (1990). Handbook of hypnotic suggestions and metaphors. New York: W. W. Norton.

Tindle, H, et al. (2006). Cessation Among Smokers of "Light" Cigarettes: Results From the 2000 National Health Interview Survey. American Journal of Public Health. 96.8, 1498-1504.

The Truth About "Light" Cigarettes. (2004, August 17). National Cancer Institute.

Call 978-270-0394 Now to Make an Appointment to Quit Smoking at the Center for Mind-Body Psychotherapy