Tobacco Companies Switch to Color-Coded Labeling

Facing a federal ban on terms like “light,” “mild,” “medium,” “low,” and similar descriptors on cigarette packs, tobacco companies are starting to use color-coding to distinguish one variety of cigarette from another, the Associated Press reported June 4.

Tobacco-control advocates say the move from language to colors just maintains the status quo. While tobacco companies have always insisted that the classifications denote the taste and blend of the cigarette, rather than a quantitative health-risk difference, studies have shown that 90 percent of smokers and nonsmokers believe “light” cigarettes to be healthier than their “regular” counterparts.

David Hammond, a health-behavior researcher at the University of Waterloo in Canada, approved of the new federal law but suggested that the ban on descriptive language was merely the first of many necessary steps. “This is essentially mopping up the worst excesses of what the courts in the U.S. have judged to be deceptive advertising,” he said.

More than 40 countries have similar packaging and marketing restrictions; Australia, for example, is pushing legislation that would allow only nondescript, colorless, logo-less cigarette packs.

Such a move, tobacco executives say, could cripple the industry. “Absent this information,” said James E. Swauger, vice president of regulatory oversight for R.J. Reynolds in a letter to the FDA, “massive confusion in the marketplace would result.”

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