Misleading Terms

Evidence

Research conducted in Canada, the UK, and Australia suggests that prohibiting “light” and “mild” terms may be insufficient to significantly reduce false beliefs about the risks of different cigarette brands. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that significant proportions of adult smokers and youth in countries such as the UK continue to report false beliefs about the relative risk of leading cigarette brands. One potentialScreen Shot 2556-02-13 at 2.09.49 PM explanation for these findings is the wide range of other descriptors that remain in use, including words such as “smooth”, colour descriptors such as “silver” and “blue”, as well as “tar” numbers that are incorporated into brand names or printed on the sides of packs.

The names of colours are among most common replacement descriptors following prohibitions on “light” and “mild” descriptors. For example, in many countries that have prohibited the term “light”, Marlboro Light has been relabeled as Marlboro Gold. Three recent studies have examined consumer perceptions of colour descriptors in Canada, the UK and the United States. The findings from these studies indicate that consumer perceive the colour descriptors in the same way as the “light” and “mild” descriptors they replaced. For example, more than three quarters of US adults surveyed indicated that a brand labeled as “silver” would have lower levels of tar and less health risk than a “full flavour” brand.

Studies conducted in the UK and Canada after the removal of “light” and “mild” descriptors suggest that replacement words such as “smooth” have the same misleading effect as light and mild: as many as half of adults and youth in these studies reported that a brand labelled “smooth” would have lower risk than its “regular” counterpart. Research has also shown that youth may perceive brands that are labeled as “organic” or “natural” as less harmful.

Screen Shot 2556-02-13 at 2.10.06 PMFemale-oriented brand descriptors such as “slims” target beliefs about smoking and weight control-an important predictor of smoking behaviour among young women. Women and adolescent girls hold a common belief that smoking is an effective weight control strategy. Not only are females more likely to endorse this belief than males, they are also more likely to report using cigarettes as a weight loss method.

Research suggests that smoking initiation is higher among girls who highly value thinness, engage in dieting behaviours, express concern over body weight, or have negative views of their bodies. Although there is an established link between smoking and weight gain, beliefs about the association between smoking and weight tend to be exaggerated among young women.  Recent research conducted among young women in Canada and the U.S. has demonstrated that “slims” brand descriptors are associated with increased brand appeal and stronger beliefs that smoking is associated with thinness.

The tobacco industry often claims that the use of descriptors such as low tar, “light” and “mild” are not misleading. For example, a consumer research funded by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) conducted in Hong Kong (HK), Korea and Malaysia emphasized that “Mild Seven” is not misleading and that “virtually no one” believes that “light” and “mild” cigarettes pose less harm than other products. However, when prompted further with statements about “less harm to health”, (a) 35% in HK and Malaysia and 37% in Korea believe that some cigarettes are less harmful than others, (b) 27% in HK, 25% in Malaysia, and 34% in Korea believe that “some cigarettes described as “mild” pose lower health risks than other cigarettes,” and (c) 30% in HK and Malaysia and 36% in Korea believe that “some cigarettes described as “lights” and “super lights” pose lower health risks than other cigarettes.” The report also shows that some of those surveyed who smoke certain brands (such as Mild Seven) prefer them because of the lower tar or nicotine content or because they believe that a particular brand is “healthier” or less harmful than others.

Current International Best Practice

To date, more than 50 countries have prohibited the terms “light”, “mild”, and “low tar”. The list of prohibited terms has been expanded in countries such as Malaysia, to include: “cool”, “extra”, “low tar”, “special”, “full flavor”, “premium”, “rich”, “famous”, “slim”, and “grade A”.

Laws and Regulations

Malaysia Control of Tobacco Product Regulations Amendment 2008
Thailand Ministry of Public Health Notification No.12 2006
Thailand Ministry of Public Health Notification No.15 2011