Background: Regulatory oversight of tobacco product design has gained momentum in the US and internationally. Appropriate standards for assessing commercial brands and characterising product features must be considered a priority. An area of potential concern is in-market design changes adopted within a single commercial brand over time.
Methods: Internal tobacco industry documents were identified and used to assess internal discussion of product guidelines and practices regarding in-market brand changes.
Results: Commercial tobacco products undergo a constant process of revision in-market, beginning at the most basic level of physical product characteristics and components, and including every aspect of design. These revisions commonly exceed guidelines for acceptable product variance adopted within the industry. While consumer and market testing is conducted to ensure that products remain acceptable to users, explicit marketing often may not accompany brand changes. In the absence of such marketing, it should not be assumed that a brand remains unchanged.
Conclusions: For manufacturers, assessment of competitor brands includes identification and analysis of non-routine changes; that is, those changes likely to significantly alter the character of a given brand. Regulators must adopt a similar practice in determining standards for product evaluation in the face of ongoing commercial product revision.
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Funding: Funding was provided by National Cancer Institute research grant R01 CA87477-08.
Competing interests: None.