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Cigarette Packaging is Still Misleading

Jul 29, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Last month, President Barack Obama signed The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law, allowing the federal government broad authority over tobacco products. Unfortunately, new research indicates that regulations have not fully enabled the removal of misleading information from cigarette labeling, reports ScienceDaily.

Verbiage such as “silver” or “smooth,” says ScienceDaily, allow consumers to believe that cigarettes are not as dangerous. Including low numbers into cigarette brand names, lighter colors, or pictures of filters, add to the misconception, Science Daily added.

The new regulation was enacted to allow regulators to control cigarette packaging and marketing as well as how much nicotine—the addictive component in cigarettes—is added in tobacco products, explained the Washington Post previously.

"Research has already shown that using words such as 'light,' 'mild,' and 'low tar' on cigarette packaging misleads consumers into thinking that one brand carries a lower health risk than another and that's why those words have been outlawed in more than 50 countries, but there has been virtually no independent research on these other packaging tactics to support broader regulation," said study' leader, David Hammond, a professor of health studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, quoted ScienceDaily. "Our study found that commonly-used words not covered by the bans, as well as other packaging design elements such as colour, the use of numbers and references to filters, were just as misleading, which means there's a loophole that needs to be closed," Hammond added.

ScienceDaily explained that the study involved 603 adults and was published in yesterday’s online edition of the Journal of Public Health. Canadian researchers are urging for the list of banned words to go beyond what is now prohibited: "light," "mild," and "low-tar," reported ScienceDaily. The group also called for the removal of other “pack elements” to better ensure consumers do not mistakenly believe any one brand of cigarettes is less dangerous than another, said ScienceDaily.

ScienceDaily pointed out that not only is tobacco use the number one cause of preventable death worldwide, but the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over five million people die annually from smoking. According to the LA Times previously, citing the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about one-third—30 percent—of “youth” smokers will die prematurely from a “smoking-related disease” and those who begin smoking before they are 21 years of age have the most difficult time quitting. The NIH reports that about 25 percent of all U.S. high school students smoke, said the LA Times.

"An important function of tobacco marketing has been to reassure consumers about the product's risks and a central feature of the strategy has been to promote the perception that some cigarettes are less hazardous than others, so that health-concerned smokers are encouraged to switch brands rather than quit," Hammond said. "We've seen research described in internal tobacco industry documents indicating that reference to filters and the use of lighter colours conveys that message successfully, but now we have independent confirmation, plus evidence on other words in widespread use," Hammond added, quoted ScienceDaily. "The truth is that all cigarettes are equally hazardous, regardless of the filter type, what colour the pack is or what words appear on it. These tactics are giving consumers a false sense of reassurance that simply does not exist,” said Hammond.

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