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United States Moves to Reject International Cigarette Standard

Proposal Could Alter Tobacco Industry Packaging and Marketing
July 09, 2008

Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a proposal which, if adopted, will curtail the tobacco industry’s misleading use of tar and nicotine test results that falsely imply that 'light' or 'low tar' cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes. The proposal withdraws an FTC guidance issued in 1966 that permits statements concerning tar and nicotine yields if they are based on a smoking machine test known as the Cambridge Filter Method, commonly called 'the FTC method.' The FTC has concluded that the tar and nicotine test results based on the FTC method have little or no relation to the amount of tar and nicotine consumers actually receive when smoking. The FTC proposal would prohibit tobacco companies from claiming that cigarette tar and nicotine ratings are based on government or an FTC-approved testing method or that they are in any way endorsed or approved by the US government.

The FTC’s action has major implications for tobacco marketing around the world because the FTC test method is the same as the standard adopted by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and is used widely around the world to measure tar and nicotine levels in cigarettes. The tobacco industry uses the same method to test and market so called 'light' and 'low' or 'safer' cigarettes around the world

The agency proposal comes at a time of overwhelming scientific evidence that current machine-based measures of tar and nicotine based upon the FTC or ISO method do not provide meaningful information about the relative health risks of different cigarettes.

Studies demonstrate that many smokers believe that smoking 'light,' 'mild,' 'low-tar,' or 'ultra-light' cigarettes reduces the risk of smoking-related health problems. In fact, the scientific evidence shows that these cigarettes are no safer than regular cigarettes and that no cigarette has been shown to be safe.

'If this proposal goes into effect, it will prohibit the use of these misleading numbers and the false marketing behind light and low cigarettes,' said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'The proposal will provide further momentum for other countries to reject the ISO standards on tar and nicotine levels, making it more difficult for the tobacco industry to make fraudulent and misleading claims about the safety of light or low tar cigarettes.

The decision could have particularly significant ramifications for the 168 nations that have ratified the world’s first international health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The treaty calls on countries to prohibit the tobacco industry from using misleading and false terms or descriptions—like 'light' or 'low'—in packaging and labeling. Given the scientific evidence which shows that the ratings for tar and nicotine under the FTC/ISO standard are misleading to consumers, FCTC members should prohibit these ratings from appearing on cigarette packages and hold the tobacco industry accountable for knowingly deceiving their citizens about the health risks of smoking.