Cigarette 'Relighting' on Rise in Still-Tight Economy

FRIDAY March 22, 2013 -- Smokers are relighting used cigarette butts in an apparent response to tough economic times, according to a new study.

Although this tactic may save money for smokers, it doesn't benefit their health. Researchers cautioned that relighting cigarettes does not reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. They said the trend could affect treatment strategies for tobacco dependence, such as medication dosages and counseling.

"Despite those engaging in the relighting practice smoking fewer cigarettes, there is no estimated reduction in their exposure to toxins," senior study author Michael Steinberg, director of the Tobacco Dependence Program at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said in an institute news release. "In fact, smokers who relight cigarettes may be at higher risk of lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. That is something of which policymakers need to be aware."

The study involved about 500 smokers seeking treatment from the Tobacco Dependence Program. Of these, 46 percent admitted to relighting cigarettes. This group smoked 16 cigarettes daily on average. Meanwhile, smokers who did not relight cigarettes smoked an average of 20 cigarettes each day.

Women were more likely to relight cigarettes. Higher rates of relighting were also found among black people and those who were divorced, widowed or separated. Those who started smoking at an early age, smoked menthol cigarettes or who said they wake up to smoke during the night are also more likely to relight cigarette butts. The behavior was also linked to unemployment, illness, disability and having less than a high school diploma.

"While the relighting of cigarettes is a relatively unexplored smoking behavior, it was anticipated that certain economic characteristics, such as lower education and lack of employment, would be related to a higher level of relighting," Steinberg said. "We were, however, surprised that women are more likely to engage in this practice than men. This needs further study."

The findings were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco in Boston. Data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the health effects of cigarette smoking.

Posted: March 2013


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