Banning "light" on cigarette packs does little

Thu Jun 23, 2011 9:59pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - More and more nations are banning the words "light" and "mild" from cigarette packs, but this may not be enough to dispel smokers' misbeliefs that the products are safer, according to a study.

In the study, published in "Addiction," researchers found that after the UK, Australia and Canada banned the terms as deceptive, there was a dip in the number of people who mistakenly believed that cigarettes marketed as "light" or "mild" carried fewer health risks -- but the decline was only temporary.

"The findings from our study confirm our earlier work showing that merely removing the terms 'light' and 'mild' from cigarette packs is insufficient to change people's beliefs that those products are safer," said lead researcher Hua-Hie Yong, at the Cancer Council Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.

To clear up misperceptions regarding the dangers of cigarettes, more steps are needed, Yong said in an email.

This week, U.S. health officials released graphic images that tobacco companies will be required to include on cigarette packages no later than September 2012. The images are of dead bodies, diseased lungs, rotting teeth and other complications of smoking and follow in the steps of other countries with similar regulations.

In 2003, the European Union and Brazil banned the terms "light" and "mild" from cigarette packaging, and other countries have since followed suit. A U.S. law that bars the words "light," "low tar" and "mild" from tobacco products went into effect almost exactly one year ago.

"Light" cigarettes deliver less nicotine and lower levels of toxic chemicals when the smoke is analyzed by a machine.

In real life, though, studies show that smokers inhale comparable amounts of nicotine and chemicals regardless of the brand -- and critics have long charged that tobacco products dubbed "light" or "mild" confuse people into thinking there are fewer risks.

For the study, Yong's team looked at results from international surveys done annually between 2002 and 2009 in Australia, Canada, the UK and the United States.   Continued...

<p>An extinguished cigarette is pictured in an ashtray in a bar in downtown Zurich September 28, 2008. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann</p>