A comprehensive plan to end the ‘light’ and ‘mild’ deception

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

A comprehensive plan to end the ‘light’ and ‘mild’ deception, a report by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. 12 pp. January 2005.

Summary of published report: (Taken from the report)

For over thirty years, Canadian tobacco companies have deceived smokers into thinking that "light" cigarettes are less harmful than "regular" cigarettes. They have designed their cigarettes and their cigarette packaging and marketing to perpetuate this deception. For over twenty years, Health Canada (Canada's national health service) has known that the measurements of tar, nicotine and other compounds produced by smoking machines do not reflect the amount of harmful substances inhaled by real smokers. For over six years, Health Ministers and the department have admitted that this deception is harming Canadians, but have done nothing to stop change the way tobacco companies use packaging, marketing and cigarette design to deceive smokers. For over ten years, health groups have been calling for an end to the deception and have called on Health Canada to use its regulatory power to ban deceptive packaging and labeling and have called on the Competition Bureau and other consumer protection bodies to intervene.

Many Canadians still believe that these cigarettes are less harmful, even though governments and other health authorities have cautioned that this is not the case. More than 600,000 Canadians who smoke so-called "light" and "mild" cigarettes believe that the will get less tar from these cigarettes.

To protect consumers, Health Canada recommends banning each of the deceptive practices used by tobacco companies, including:

1. The use of misleading brand descriptors that falsely convey differences in "strength," such as "light," "ultra-light," "mild," "ultra-mild," "smooth," etc.
2. The use of misleading colours and packaging elements that falsely convey differences in strength, such as the use of lighter colours or more white space to falsely imply that these products are less harmful.
3. The display of numbers on packages that falsely convey differences in the amount of compounds inhaled between brands or sub-brands of cigarettes, and that fail to tell consumers how much they are inhaling.
4. The marketing and display of cigarettes in ways that falsely conveys distinctions between types of cigarettes.
5. The use of brand extensions (several types of one brand of cigarettes) that falsely convey distinctions between types of cigarettes.
6. The use of cigarette designs that falsely convey a smoking experience of "reduced strength", and that facilitate changes in smoking behavior that are unperceived or barely perceived by the smoker.

External resources

  • Nadine Rae Leavelle The Low Tar Lie, Tobacco Control 1999; 8: 433-437 (Abstract available, but article purchase required)