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Star Scientific's Phase-out of 'Light' and Similar Terms Is Significant Step if Extended to All Its Cigarette Brands

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 17, 2002

Washington, DC — We welcome Star Scientific Inc.'s acceptance of the National Cancer Institute's conclusions that the use of terms such as 'light,' 'low tar,' 'mild' and 'ultra-light' to describe cigarettes is misleading to consumers and cigarettes labeled as such have not reduced the risk of smoking-caused disease. Star's announcement that it is voluntarily phasing out the use of such terms, beginning with its Vegas cigarette brand, will be a significant step if this ban is extended to all the company's brands and followed by other cigarette manufacturers. Now that Star has acknowledged that these terms must be abandoned because they are misleading, there is no justification for continuing to use them on any of its products. Star should act now rather than waiting to assess consumer response with Vegas cigarettes.

Based on the findings of the NCI report on light and low-tar cigarettes released in November, all tobacco companies should immediately cease using these terms and any other means, such as package coloring and advertising claims, that convey the impression that one tobacco product is less harmful to health than others. In addition, Congress should grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration clear and effective authority to regulate tobacco products, including the ability to regulate health claims and ban terms such as 'light,' 'ultra-light,' 'mild' and 'low-tar.'

Currently, 87 percent of cigarettes sold in the United States are low-tar brands marketed with descriptions such as 'light' and 'ultra-light,' according to the Federal Trade Commission. The NCI report found that many smokers switched to these cigarettes believing them to be less risky or a step toward quitting. However, the report found that 'current evidence does not support either claims of reduced harm or policy recommendations to switch to these products.' The report found that the tobacco companies have long known that light cigarettes have not resulted in better health for smokers because smokers of lights tend to compensate by smoking more, inhaling more deeply or blocking ventilation holes.

In addition to eliminating terms such as 'light' and 'low-tar,' Star and other tobacco companies should also cease any other marketing that implies one tobacco product is safer than another until the FDA has been granted the authority to scientifically verify these claims and ensure they are not marketed in ways that discourage smokers from quitting or encourage new smokers to start. New tobacco products that have been marketed recently with implied health claims include R.J. Reynolds' Eclipse (cigarette-like product that heats rather than burns tobacco), Vector Tobacco's Omni cigarette, and the Advance cigarette that was developed by Star and is being marketed by Brown & Williamson. Tobacco companies should be encouraged to reduce known carcinogens and other toxins in their products, but it is irresponsible for them to make statements implying that these new products are safer until an independent government agency, the FDA, has the authority to verify and regulate these claims. Until the FDA is granted this authority, customers using these new products are essentially human guinea pigs in a tobacco industry experiment. It is time to end the low-tar lie and to stop this public health disaster from recurring with a new generation of tobacco products.