Background Under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of “Lights” descriptors or similar terms on tobacco products that convey messages of reduced risk. Manufacturers eliminated terms explicitly stated and substituted colour name descriptors corresponding to the banned terms. This paper examines whether the tobacco industry complied with or circumvented the law and potential FDA regulatory actions.
Methods Philip Morris retailer manuals, manufacturers' annual reports filed with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, a national public opinion survey, and market-wide cigarette sales data were examined.
Results Manufacturers substituted “Gold” for “Light” and “Silver” for “Ultra-light” in the names of Marlboro sub-brands, and “Blue”, “Gold”, and “Silver” for banned descriptors in sub-brand names. Percent filter ventilation levels, used to generate the smoke yield ranges associated with “Lights” categories, appear to have been reassigned to the new colour brand name descriptors. Following the ban, 92% of smokers reported they could easily identify their usual brands, and 68% correctly named the package colour associated with their usual brand, while sales for “Lights” cigarettes remained unchanged.
Conclusions Tobacco manufacturers appear to have evaded a critical element of the FSPTCA, the ban on misleading descriptors that convey reduced health risk messages. The FPSTCA provides regulatory mechanisms, including banning these products as adulterated (Section 902). Manufacturers could then apply for pre-market approval as new products and produce evidence for FDA evaluation and determination whether or not sales of these products are in the public health interest.
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