The Health Education Authority (HEA) found that smokers were being misled by the way in which low-tar cigarettes were packaged and promoted. It has called for the use of terms such as "light", "ultra" and "mild" to be banned.
The HEA, which estimates there are between three and four million people in England smoking light cigarettes, also wants tobacco companies to be forced to disclose all cigarette ingredients and additives.
This follows recent research which suggested that low-tar cigarettes were no less harmful than regular cigarettes, producing tar and nicotine levels far higher than those printed on the packet. One study found no difference in lung-cancer rates between those who smoked high-tar cigarettes and those who smoked low-tar brands.
The HEA survey found that more than one in four (28 per cent) of smokers thought low-tar cigarettes were less harmful than regular brands, with the young most likely to think this.
Steve Woodward, smoking campaign manager of the HEA, said: "Smokers are being duped into believing that low-tar cigarettes are somehow better for them by advertising and packaging. People often change the way they inhale when they smoke low-tar brands - they take deeper drags or more puffs in order to get more nicotine. In doing this they also get higher levels of tar and tobacco companies have known this for years...
"The level of tar in a cigarette is measured in a machine but people don't smoke like machines. The way people actually smoke them can turn so-called low-tar cigarettes into normal strength cigarettes."Reuse content