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Smoking Long or Ultralong Cigarettes Magnifies Lung Cancer Risk

Long and ultra-long cigarettes have a noticeably longer and thinner profile than standard cigarettes. Tobacco product manufacturers apparently market these cigarettes to appeal to women and enhance the perceived safety of smoking; however, use of long and ultra-long cigarettes may actually increase a person’s cancer-related risks. In a study published in March 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health used 13 years of data to determine exactly which smokers tend to prefer long and ultra-long cigarettes to other cigarette types.

The Basics

Cigarettes come in four basic sizes: regular, king-sized, long and ultra-long. According to figures compiled from three years of a project called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, slightly over half of all smokers in the U.S. (53 percent) use king-sized cigarettes, while another 31.5 percent use long or ultra-long cigarettes. Ironically, “regular” cigarettes are used by less than 16 percent of U.S. smokers. The tobacco industry typically avoids revealing its motivations for making cigarettes of differing size or otherwise divulging the marketing tactics it uses to attract new smokers or maintain brand loyalty among current smokers. Still, current information gathered from within this industry indicates that long and ultra-long cigarette brands are specifically intended to appeal to women and teenage girls who smoke or may smoke in the future.

Unique Health Risks

Most daily cigarette smokers are affected by nicotine addiction and feel compelled to smoke in order to keep supplying nicotine to their brains and avoid the distinctly unpleasant symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. In turn, all habitual smokers run risks for a broad range of major health problems, including lung disease, heart disease and cancer in the lungs, kidneys and several other critical organ systems. However, findings presented in October 2013 to the American College of Chest Physicians (and also published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research) indicate that people who smoke long and ultra-long cigarettes may have unique cancer risks when compared to their counterparts who smoke regular or king-sized cigarettes. Specifically, when put through tests that measure the amount of tobacco-related carcinogenic chemicals in their urine, long and ultra-long cigarette users have substantially elevated levels of a cancer-associated substance known as NNAL. In turn, elevated levels of this substance may point to increased odds that a given individual will develop smoking-related oral cancer or lung cancer.

Who Smokes Longs and Ultra-Longs?

The Harvard School of Public Health researchers who conducted the study on the cancer-causing potential of long and ultra-long cigarettes also authored the 2014 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. In the more recent study, the researchers used data gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2012 to determine how many people age 20 or older smoke long or ultra-long cigarettes, and also to make detailed demographic profiles of these users. After analyzing the survey results from each year, the researchers concluded that the popularity of long and ultra-long cigarettes is actually falling among active smokers. However, despite this fact, long and ultra-long cigarette smokers represented a larger percentage of the overall pool of adult smokers in 2012 than they did in 1999. In the final survey year under consideration (2011/2012), these smokers accounted for roughly 38.7 percent of all cigarette users.

The researchers’ demographic breakdown identified several groups unusually prone to smoking long or ultra-long cigarettes. For example, women (the apparent market targets) smoke these cigarettes significantly more often than men. In racial/ethnic terms, smokers of African American descent are substantially more likely to use long or ultra-long cigarettes than smokers of European descent. In addition, people in the broad range between age 45 and age 64 (as well as people age 65 or older) smoke longs and ultra-longs considerably more frequently than their younger counterparts between the ages of 18 and 24.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence note the potential of long and ultra-long cigarette use among women, African Americans and older adults to magnify the health risks already known to appear in these specific demographic populations. They also note the use of slim, long cigarettes as a marketing tactic and recommend that regulatory bodies responsible for overseeing the tobacco industry take the design of these cigarettes into account when making decisions that influence the disease-related impact of cigarette/tobacco use.

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