A new test may help in the development of better strategies for smokers to kick the habit.
Scientists said that it provides a much more accurate estimate of exposure than using automated cigarette smoking machines to estimate mainstream smoke deliveries, which traditionally have been used.
"Historically, our knowledge about the amounts of carcinogens, nicotine, and tar produced by cigarettes is based on data from smoking machines," Clifford Watson explained.
Potential future applications include examining a smoker's daily cigarette-to-cigarette consumption pattern and developing an optimized smoking cessation program based on an individual's pattern.
It would also be possible to develop individualized plans for quitting that are custom-tailored to each individual's smoking pattern to improve cessation rates.
Watson and colleagues based the method on previous research involving a substance naturally present in tobacco called solanesol. During smoking, a fraction of the solanesol deposits in the cigarette filters and serves as a good surrogate "marker" for other compounds in the mainstream smoke that smokers draw in their mouths.
Watson reasoned that measurements of this one compound could be used to gauge a smoker's exposure to numerous other chemicals in the more than 7,000 chemicals present in cigarette smoke.
Their findings indicate that measuring solanesol does provide a quick, inexpensive way to estimate a smoker's total exposure, in a way that more closely reflects their natural smoking habits.
Even cigarettes that are labeled as "low tar" or "light" are unsafe, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to recently ban tobacco companies from using these terms on cigarette packaging.
"There's no such thing as a safe cigarette," Watson cautioned.
"The only proven means to reduce your health risk from tobacco use is to quit."