No evidence that the tobacco industry evaded the FDA's ban on 'Light' cigarette descriptors

Steven D Pinkerton, Public Health Researcher,
March 31, 2013

NOT PEER REVIEWED The authors of "Has the tobacco industry evaded the FDA's ban on 'Light' cigarette descriptors?" examined four distinct indicators to address this research question. They found that: (1) the major cigarette manufacturers removed the terms explicitly stated in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2010 by switching to colour terms (e.g., Marlboro Gold) to designate sub-brands; (2) the mean percent filter ventilation did not significantly differ between 2009 Light-designated cigarettes and the corresponding post-ban sub-brands; (3) one year after the ban on Light designations, 88%-91% of current smokers reported that it was 'somewhat easy' or 'very easy' to identify their usual brand of cigarettes by the banned descriptor names, Lights, Mediums, or Ultra- lights; and (4) sales of previously-designated Light sub-brands did not significantly change between the first two quarters of 2010 (pre-ban) and the second two quarters (post-ban). Based on these findings the authors concluded that, "Tobacco manufacturers appear to have evaded a critical element of the FSPTCA, the ban on misleading descriptors that convey reduced health risk messages".

This overreaching conclusion is not supported by the evidence reported in the article. Taken in turn: (1) the major tobacco companies demonstrated 100% compliance with the law by eliminating all terms specified in the FSPTCA--the use of colour terms to designate sub-brands is not regulated by the FSPTCA; (2) there is nothing in the FSPTCA that requires, or even suggests, that tobacco companies should modify filter ventilation levels; (3) it is hardly surprising that one year after the ban, almost all then-current smokers could remember the old Full- flavored/Medium/Light/Ultra-light designation of their usual brand of cigarettes--a much more telling test of the effect of these designations on brand preference would have required surveying new initiates to the smoking habit--and in any case, there is little discernable relevance of these data to the question of whether or not the tobacco industry evaded the FDA's ban on Light-type cigarette descriptors; and (4) one would not expect habitual smokers to change brands based on the repackaging mandated by the FSPTCA (provided they could identify the new equivalent), only that recent smoking initiates might display different brand preferences in the first and second two-quarter periods of 2010 due to the switch from Lights -type descriptors to colour-based descriptors, an effect that the published study would have had very limited power to confirm, had the authors looked for it.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Conflict of Interest

None declared