Thursday March 14, 2013
For decades the tobacco industry deceived the American people into believing “light” and “mild” cigarettes were somehow better for their health than regular cigarettes. In fact, cigarette companies first introduced “light” cigarettes after Surgeon General Luther Terry released his historic report in 1964 that made the connection between smoking and disease.
But thanks to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which Congress passed in 2009, the FDA now has regulatory authority over the tobacco industry, reining in its misleading marketing of its deadly products. The law included a ban on terms such as “light,” “mild” and “low tar” from tobacco packaging and marketing. Unfortunately, a new study I came across today documents how the tobacco industry is using deceptive tactics to sidestep this ban.
Two researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that cigarette manufacturers have switched to using different code words and suggestive packaging to classify its products as “light.” Published in the journal Tobacco Control, the research paper includes manufacturer reports from Phillip Morris, cigarette sales data and a national opinion survey, all of which show that the industry has evaded the ban.
For example, Marlboro, Parliament, and Virginia Slims sub-brands, once known as ‘Light’ or ‘Ultra-light,’ have been rebranded as ‘Gold’ and ‘Silver,’ respectively.
The researchers also conducted a phone survey of current smokers and found that more than two-thirds of those interviewed accurately associated the packaging color of their favored brand with its former ‘light,’ ‘ultra-light’ or full-flavor label – a practice known as “color coding”. Additionally, more than 90 percent of smokers surveyed said it was either “somewhat easy” or “very easy” to identify their usual brand, even without ‘light’ or ‘ultra-light’ on the label.
This study proves that the tobacco industry continues to employ deceptive tactics to keep Americans hooked to its deadly products. ACS CAN has urged the FDA to more specifically restrict the terms and colors allowed on packaging. A model example is Australia, which has adopted a plain packaging requirement for cigarette packs that eliminates the use of the pack as an advertising opportunity and prohibits the use of color coding to get around the restrictions on deceptive marketing of light, low and mild products.
The bottom line is, there is no such thing as a safe tobacco product, and the American people should not be led to believe otherwise through misleading marketing practices.
Graph courtesy of Tobacco Control