Prohibitions on Misleading Packaging Information

Background

Tobacco companies have made extensive use of cigarette packages to reassure consumers about the potential risks of their products.  A central feature of this strategy has been to use misleading brand descriptors-words and numbers incorporated in the name of a brand. Words such as “light” and “mild” are ostensibly used to denote flavor and taste; however, “light” and “mild” brands have also been promoted in advertisements as “healthier” products. “Light” and “mild” descriptors are also applied to brands with higher levels of filter ventilation-small holes in cigarette filters. Not only does filter ventilation dilute cigarette smoke to produce deceptively low tar and nicotine numbers under machine testing, but it also produces “lighter” tasting smoke, which reinforces the misleading descriptors on packages.

As a result, considerable proportions of adult smokers believe that “light”, “mild”, and “low tar” cigarette brands have lower health risk and are less addictive than “regular” or “full flavour” brands. Indeed, many health concerned smokers report switching to these brands as an alternative to quitting.  “Light” and “mild” descriptors may also promote smoking initiation among youth: one study found that U.S. youth believe “light” and “mild” have lower health risk and lower levels of addiction than “regular” brand varieties, similar to adults. Overall, the synergistic, but subtle effect of brand descriptors, lower emission numbers, and the “lighter” tasting smoke have undermined perceptions of risk among smokers, leading many to delay or put off quitting altogether.

FCTC Article 11.1 (a)Each  Party  shall,   within   a  period   of three years after entry into force of this Convention for that Party, adopt and implement, in accordance with its national  law,  effective measures  to ensure that:….tobacco product packaging and labelling do not promote  a tobacco product by any means that are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression about  its characteristics, health  effects,  hazards or emissions, including any term, descriptor, trademark, figurative or any other sign that directly or indirectly creates the false impression that a particular tobacco  product is  less harmful than other tobacco  products. These   may   include    terms   such   as “low  tar”, “light”, “ultra-light”, or “mild.”