Tobacco companies evaded FDA ban on ‘light’ cigarette descriptors

Marlboro Lights is Marlboro Gold

New study from Harvard School of Public Health (HPSH) reveals that a year after the federal government approved a law prohibiting word descriptors such as “light,” “mild,” and “low” on cigarette packages, smokers can still without difficulty find their brands as tobacco companies added color-coding to “light” packs after the prohibition. These data indicate that the companies have been able to avert the ban on confusing words.

“The tobacco companies were recognized guilty by a federal court in 2006 for deceptively advertising ‘light’ cigarettes as safer. After a new federal law was approved in 2009 to end the tobacco companies’ deceptive marketing methods, the industry has obviously circumvented it by applying new and innovative techniques to trick consumers,” stated Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at HSPH and professor of the practice of public health in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

In 2006, a U.S. federal court decided that tobacco companies should use no more descriptive words that share a misleading health message.

To find out whether the tobacco companies were observing the ban, the HSPH scientists analyzed retailer manuals from the tobacco company Philip Morris; companies’ yearly reports filed with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; countrywide cigarette sales records; and the results of a 2011 national public view survey that involved questions about smokers’ ideas of their brands being “light” or regular.

The research explains how Philip Morris got rid of the terms “light,” “ultra-light,” and “mild” from cigarette packs and replaced new brand names and colors. For instance, the “Marlboro Light” brand was called “Marlboro Gold,” “Marlboro Mild” was called “Marlboro Blue,” and Marlboro Ultra-light” was called “Marlboro Silver.” Other cigarette companies followed Philip Morris. The cigarettes themselves continued to be the same, however, the percentage of ventilation in each category of “light” sub-brands was unchanged after being recalled and supplied with a new color descriptor. Ventilation is the principle determinant of whether a cigarette is named “light.”

In the public opinion review, over 90% of the smoker answerers said that, a year after the FDA ban, they saw it either “somewhat easy” (11%) or “very easy” (81%) to recognize their cigarette brand – nonetheless, they still considered certain brands as “light” even though tehre are no “light” descriptors on the packages.

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