Jun. 29 2010
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today took strong, quick action against Philip Morris USA to prevent the tobacco company from evading the new ban on promoting cigarettes as "light," "mild" or "low-tar" that takes effect on June 22. The ban on these deceptive terms is a key provision of the new federal law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. It seeks to end a decades-long tobacco industry fraud that has falsely promoted some cigarette brands as less harmful and sought to discourage smokers from quitting.
According to a letter the FDA sent to Philip Morris today, the company has attached "onserts" to its Marlboro Lights packs that state, "Your Marlboro Lights pack is changing. But your cigarette stays the same. In the future, ask for 'Marlboro in the gold pack.'"
The FDA letter states, "FDA is concerned that the statements included in the onserts attached to the individual packs of Marlboro Lights may perpetuate the mistaken beliefs associated with your "light" cigarettes when marketed as Marlboro in the gold pack. By stating that only the packaging is changing, but the cigarettes will stay the same, the onsert suggests that Marlboro in the gold pack will have the same characteristics as Marlboro Lights, including any mistaken attributes associated with the "light" cigarettes."
The FDA is correctly demanding that the company turn over all market research it has conducted or possesses on how consumers react to changes in the Marlboro Lights package, including their perceptions about the new gold packs. This will give the FDA the information it needs to take additional enforcement action if Philip Morris does not pull the onserts. Under the law, tobacco companies may not use any marketing that explicitly or implicitly suggests a cigarette brand is less harmful than others.
In addition to the onserts, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are using lighter-colored packaging for light brands and switched to terms such as "gold" and "silver" to replace "light" and "ultra-light" to circumvent the ban.
We applaud the FDA's action as a crucial first step toward keeping the tobacco industry from continuing the "light" and "low-tar" deception. We call on Philip Morris to go beyond the actions called for by the FDA and immediately stop using these onserts. In fact, all tobacco companies and retailers should cease any activity that communicates to consumers that "light" or "low-tar" brands are still available. Any activity that misleads consumers into believing that certain cigarettes are safer and discourages smokers from quitting is harmful to public health.