Nov. 20 2002
Washington, D.C. — As confirmed by an authoritative National Cancer Institute study released in November 2001, the tobacco companies for decades have deceptively marketed "light", "ultra light" and "low-tar" cigarettes as reducing smokers' health risks despite knowing from their own research that these cigarettes were no safer than regular brands. Now Philip Morris is seeking to escape responsibility for the tremendous harm its deceptive marketing has caused by adding an insert to its light and low-tar cigarettes that claims to provide "information for smokers" about the meaning of these terms. These inserts are nothing more than a slick PR campaign designed to avoid the more rigorous regulation that is needed. They will not undo the damage caused by decades of deceptive marketing of light and low-tar cigarettes. If Philip Morris is serious about reducing the harm caused by the marketing of light and low-tar cigarettes, it should immediately stop using the deceptive terms light, ultra light and low-tar or any other means, such as package coloring or advertising, that continue to convey the false impression that one tobacco product is less harmful to health than others.
Philip Morris is right on one point – strong action is necessary to overcome consumers' false belief that light and low-tar cigarettes are safer. However, as they have on other issues, Philip Morris' solution will have the effect of protecting Philip Morris, not consumers. Philip Morris should join the public health community in supporting legislation before Congress to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority to regulate tobacco products, including the authority to ban deceptive terms such as light, ultra light and low-tar. Instead, Philip Morris is supporting an ineffective alternative that would preserve the status quo. Philip Morris should also immediately withdraw its petition to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue a rule that would allow the tobacco companies to continue using terms such as light and low-tar. The FTC lacks the scientific expertise and public health mandate to properly evaluate such claims and should deny Philip Morris' request if it is not withdrawn.
Philip Morris' inserts appear aimed at influencing jurors and policy makers in order to avoid real changes in the company's harmful practices. The tobacco industry faces a growing number of individual and class-action lawsuits brought by sick smokers of light and low-tar cigarettes, and countries around the world, including the European Union, Canada and Brazil, are taking action to ban terms like light and low-tar. Philip Morris should not be allowed to escape responsibility for decades of deadly deception. This deception continues even today as the inserts still do not tell smokers the whole truth about light and low-tar cigarettes. The inserts fail to acknowledge that these terms are deceptive health claims and repeat the oft-stated falsehood that the terms concern taste and strength. They assert that the main problem is the way smokers smoke low-tar cigarettes and ignore the evidence from internal industry documents that the industry deliberately designed cigarettes that would produce low yields of tar when tested by machines, but would be smoked differently by actual smokers seeking to maintain nicotine levels. In essence, Philip Morris is blaming smokers for concluding that cigarette brands advertised as being low-tar actually deliver less tar when smoked and are less hazardous, without taking any responsibility for fostering these false beliefs.
Philip Morris claims that it is a changed and responsible company. But its actions show that it still does not accept responsibility for the harm its products have caused and it continues to oppose real change that that will reduce the harm they cause in the future.