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We have just discovered (February 2005) a new “premium” sideline of Australia’s second largest selling brand, Peter Jackson. The new members of the Peter Jackson “brand family” come in black, grey, and white packs, respectively, labelled “full flavour”, “smooth flavour”, and “fine flavour”. We believe this is an industry response to a looming ban on “light” and “mild” descriptors.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has investigated whether “light” and “mild” descriptors breach the Commonwealth Trade Practices Act. It has told Parliament that it believes the industry has been involved in misleading and deceptive conduct, and that it is negotiating a settlement with the three manufacturers.
We know that large numbers of Australian smokers continue to believe that “light” and “mild” cigarettes provide relative health benefits.1 Although product promotions are now tightly restricted, Australian smokers continue to be lured with what is probably the largest and most complex variety in the world of “milds” (the term Australian manufacturers prefer),2,3 all designed to create a compelling illusion of reduced harm.4
Major Australian brand families typically have six notional strength variants, based on Commonwealth labelling regulations: “1 mg or less”, “2 mg or less”, “4 mg or less”, “8 mg or less”, “12 mg or less”, and “16 mg or less”. Government mandated information on the side of each pack includes notional tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide yields in these six “tar bands”. This is scheduled for replacement by qualitative information in March 2006, when new Commonwealth labelling regulations come into force. The industry also differentiates variants with various “mild” descriptors and/or more prominent use of the “tar band” figure. It is unclear whether the industry will be able to use notional tar figures once “light” and “mild” descriptors are prohibited.
Current industry conduct demonstrates that tar yields are very important to it. The most recent Australian Retail Tobacconist has a cover advertisement for leading “budget” brand, Horizon, informing retailers:
Now your Horizon customers can get their favourite brand in an exciting new look pack. With new descriptors and clearer numbers all our packs are much easier to identify. Research proves that your customers will find the new pack more appealing and a lot easier to recognize.5
Moreover, a number of brands are labelled with notional tar yields not listed in the labelling regulations. For example, Marlboro Lights and Winfield Special Mild 6 are both labelled as “6 mg or less”. Trade promotional material for Winfield Special Mild 6 indicated that the “6 mg or less” notional tar yield was intended to attract smokers of the “8 mg or less” variant of Winfield interested in switching to a lower yield brand.6
The new Peter Jackson Select Blend varieties push the envelope by combining innovative verbal descriptors with non-prescribed notional tar yields. “Full flavour” is labelled “9 mg or less”, “smooth flavour” is labelled “6 mg or less”, and “fine flavour” is labelled “3 mg or less”. The backs of the packs describe the varieties as respectively delivering a “rich, full-flavoured smoking experience”, “an extra smooth smoking experience”, and “a more refined smoking experience”. This language does not suggest gradation in risk as clearly as “mild”, “extra mild”, and “ultra mild”, but linking these terms and visual imagery suggesting differential experience to tar yields will build belief that “smooth” and “fine” mean “safer”.
If the industry can make “smooth” and “fine” effective replacements for “light” and “mild”, we will lose some of the potential public health benefit from prohibiting the latter descriptors and removing ISO tar yields. There is a strong need for improved monitoring of industry responses to efforts to end the “lights” and “milds” deception, as well as for increased political will to prevent responses which amount to continuing the deception by new means.