Packet Labeling issues – Terms, Descriptors, and Markings
Current New Zealand
The Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 by default permits the
use of terms and descriptors such as light, extra-mild, low tar, and permits
various colour codes to denote some of these
The international situation
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control requires packaging
and labeling that inform the public about the harmfulness of tobacco
By implication, labeling should not mislead.
What is known from the United
In 1983 Benowitz noted that smokers of
very low-tar, low-nicotine cigarettes nevertheless obtained ample
nicotine – from excess nicotine content.
Although very few ultra low yield cigarettes are sold in New
Zealand, this paper was important
proof of the concept of compensatory smoking. The potential addictive
burden was not lessened.
In 2001 the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in a major review of
the topic, concluded that low yield cigarettes were designed to
induce compensatory smoking, thus resulting in inhaling more smoke, and
more toxicants. Widespread switching to low yield cigarettes in the USA
had not prevented increases in lung cancer in older smokers. Health
conscious smokers sought out low yield brands because they equated
these brands with reduced risk; but low yield brands did not assist
them to quit. There was no evidence found that changes in
cigarette design had lowered the disease burden for smokers or the
general population in any important way.
In short, low yield labels falsely allayed smokers’ health
What is known from Canada.
Are labels misleading and if so should government take action?
In 2001 Canadian Health
Minister Alan Rock set up a ministerial advisory council (MAC) on
tobacco control which he then asked for advice on this topic. His MAC
then called an international panel together, which in turn made recommendations
which achieved ministerial support. The issue lapsed with a change of
The international expert panel convened in Quebec
in 2001 led to a comprehensive, concise and
clear report which explained how tar levels underreport actual yields,
how cigarettes are engineered to attain low machine ratings, and canvassed
possible remedies. It recommended that regulations be enacted: to
totally ban light and mild descriptors; and also ban possible
replacement terms; to remove tar numbers from packs; and that the
public be (re-) educated, on the nature and causes of the deception.
Toxicological evidence Laboratory surveys of cigarette
smoke show that tar did not correlate significantly with the overall
brands’ toxic emission scores for the 16 regular brands sold in
British Columbia in 2001, (r =0.25).
Is intervention beneficial? Telephone surveys show that in
43%, in the US
51%, in Australia
55%, in UK
70% believed that light cigarettes offered some health benefit;
publicity of this issue in Canada
may or may not have been influential, but further action at government
level seems possible.
Light and mild labels banned in Australia
Peter Jackson brand is now being issued without colours as full flavour
(9 mg tar or less), smooth (6 mg tar or less) and fine (3 mg or less),
instead of regular, light and ultra-mild. The Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigated whether "light"
and "mild" descriptors breach theCommonwealth
Trade Practices Act. It told Parliament
it believed the industry was involved in misleading anddeceptive
conduct, and that it was negotiating a settlement withthe
three manufacturers.This industry move if permitted would largely take the sting out
of any moves to ban the current light, mild, extra-mild
and ultra-mild descriptors, and the deception would continue. Obviously
any regulation undertaken needs to anticipate defensive moves by
In November 2005, the Australian Competition and Consumer
Commission (ACCC) announced it has obtained court-enforceable
undertakings from Imperial to remove descriptors such as 'light' and
'mild' from its products.
This follows a similar deal with British American Tobacco Australia
and Philip Morris earlier this year, meaning that no Australian
cigarette manufacturers or importers can use these descriptions. Imperial
must remove the light and mild descriptors from all cigarettes produced
for Australian consumers after October
What is known from New
Market share of milds In New
Zealand the proportion of manufactured cigarettes sold as mild or low
yield (<0.9 mg nicotine) was 22% in 2002. In 2004, mild or similar
brands comprised 22% of the top ten brand sales volumes. The mean
sales-weighted tar was 12.4 mg, the mean nicotine 1.1 mg, up from the
year before, suggesting no trend at present towards low yield
cigarettes in New Zealand.
Ultra milds account for a tiny proportion of
the total market.
Of daily smokers, 27% said they smoked mild cigarettes, and
smoked milds because they tasted better and
were “not so strong.” 
(A typical response for a ventilated cigarette, which dilutes the smoke
with air, but results in more smoke inhaled).
Are labels misleading? Toxicological evidence.
Addiction keeps smokers smoking, despite the risks. The
dissonance created in the smoker’s mind is presumably relieved by
clutching at the notion that low tar numbers on the packet means a
lower risk of cancer. However:
·Less than one fifth of a
cigarette’s toxic emissions are due to toxicants in the tar.
published toxicant data for some 37 brands shows no reduced
toxicity correlation with tar levels across many brands. Tar is
not correlated with other toxicants. However,
the low nicotine yield accompanying the low tar ensures smokers
inhale more smoke to compensate.
Testing by the
NZ Ministry of Health found that Holiday
Extra-mild, the top-selling mild brand, had a higher toxicity
emission score than 35 other brands studied,12
notably higher than Holiday regular.
to packet labels for Mild Seven brand, a Japanese brand sold mainly
to Japanese tourists, neither tar yield (mg) nor the descriptors
‘mild, ‘light’, or ‘extramild’,
or ‘charcoal filter’ for these three brands was
associated with any reduction of the combined
respiratory—and cardiovascular toxicity of mainstream smoke,
as measured by leading toxicants tested by the intensive method.
On the other hand, four popular brands of mild labeled cigarettes
on average yielded less tar than regular brands (13.1 v. 11.7 mg per
If tar was the best measure of overall toxicity, which it is clearly
not, these mild New Zealand
cigarette brands could arguably be correctly labeled mild.
Other markings. Discordance in the packet display. Often
there is discordance between the government warning and the rest of the
pack under manufacturer’s control. Although
the sombre warnings “Smoking
kills” are now in clear black on white bold font, the
smoker’s attention from that warning is distracted by packet
imagery of beaches and sunshine with respect to the top-selling Holiday
brand. In this respect, a case remains for regulation for
tombstone packet labeling, and colouring in
harmony with government warning fonts.
What is known from cigarette manufacturers
Scientific communications Philip Morris researchers,
apparently to underline the toxicity to tar link, have promoted tar
(under ISO conditions) as a correlate of toxicants.
The correlation did not hold, however, for the major and
dominant (volatile) toxicants, when these were tested by Philip Morris
under Health Canada
smoking conditions. (r=0.30, 48 brands) by Philip Morris scientists.
The correlations found mainly refer to the smaller proportion of
toxicants found in tar. Tar numbers on the pack, therefore, do not rank
cigarette brands correctly when smoked intensively under Health Canada
conditions. Without a scientific basis, tar numbers will mislead.
Communications to regulators Philip Morris International
in its submission to the NZ Government, in promoting a secure business
environment for continued sale of cigarettes, appears to support the
continued use of ISO measurements, based on a machine taking one
shallow puff per minute. The tar numbers printed on the packet
apparently help to sell cigarettes. Philip Morris discusses
which adult smokers use to identify and select brand variants with the
taste they prefer. Regulations can help ensure that consumers do not
assume that cigarettes that are “light” or
“mild” in taste are safe or safer than other products. Removing
descriptors could inadvertently confuse consumers. Therefore, we
recommend regulations require manufacturers to provide additional
information to clarify what descriptors mean, rather than prohibiting
This in effect is more or less a defence
of the status quo.
Communications to smokers At consumer level, Philip Morris
is careful to protect itself from making misleading statements. On a
recent packet, the on-sert stated:
“There is no such thing as a safe
cigarette, including this one. The terms “Ultra Light”
“Light” “Medium” and “Mild” are
used as descriptors of the strength of taste and flavor. The terms also
serve as a relative indication of the average tar and nicotine yield
per cigarette, as measured by a standard government test
method.” “The tar and nicotine yield numbers are not
meant to communicate the amount of tar or nicotine actually inhaled by
the smoker, as individuals do not smoke like the machine used in the
government test method. The amount of tar and nicotine you inhale will
be higher than the stated tar and nicotine yield numbers if, for
example, you block ventilation holes, inhale more deeply, take more
puffs or smoke more cigarettes.” 
This onsert, while acknowledging the
dangers of all cigarettes, says “light” etc indicates the
amount of harmful tar in the smoke (using a smoking machine). This will
be read by many smokers as “low tar is less harmful’.
Having reassured or confused the reader, the onsert
then tells smokers, if the cigarette is low on taste, exactly how to
obtain more flavour (nicotine) as desired.
Thus whatever their concerns, the smokers are told how to get the
nicotine they crave, at the dose they want.
Some policy options.
Ban the present descriptors. This would not be sufficient.
See under Australia
Ban all descriptors. This would cut across the
smoker’s consumer rights (as long as the product remains legal)
to some indication of difference if in fact they taste differently - as
Ban the tar and nicotine yield numbers.Manufacturers
rely on the tar numbers to indicate to smokers which are the supposedly
lower risk products. and the low nicotine
which accompanies the low tar ensures compensatory smoking. A ban on
numbers is desirable, as it is based on the ISO method of testing, and
is not a true description of how smokers smoke, or of cigarette brand
rankings. A statement of nicotine content of the cigarette would
Support a firm health counter-statement After a brand name
such as “Brand x menthol,” require
a statement such as “All types of cigarette, including
this brand, have a high risk of killing the smoker.” This
could be placed on the packet as a health warning, in which case ample
precedent and powers exist to act. This could be with or without a ban
on descriptors. The graphic warnings to be introduced without regard to
whether a cigarette is ‘light’ or ‘mild’ on all
cigarette packets from 2008 may be regarded as providing a strong
firms have been ordered to pay for media campaigns to set the record
descriptors may or may not fairly describe the cigarettes within, because,
if tar is not the main measure of toxicity, a lower packet tar rating
may raise false hopes that a mild brand is safer than a regular brand,
because its packet tar rating is lower.
Due to the
dominance of regular (full-flavour)
brands in the New Zealand
cigarette market, the case against descriptors may not be as
strong overall as in Canada
or the United States,
or even Australia,
where the reverse is the case.
trade in false hopes because of smokers’ false belief in
smoke machine tar ratings, and that lower tar and nicotine yields
on packet labels means less harm. If this be the case, smokers
need re-education, and tar
number ratings on the packet should not be required by regulation
descriptors may be best countered by a health warning and better
health information on the packet or via mass media. Government has
ample powers to regulate and use the packet for a strong
countering if not a corrective statement. Graphic health warnings on
packets may achieve this well.
impact should be considered, to avoid packet design distracting
smokers from the sombre warning
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Article 11. World Health
Benowitz N, Hall SM, HerningRI, Jacob P,. Jones RT, Osman AL. Smokers of low-yield cigarettes do not
consume less nicotine. N Engl J Med 1983; 309:
National Cancer Institute. Risks associated with smoking cigarettes with
low machine-yields of tar and nicotine. Smoking and Tobacco Control
monograph no. 13. BethesdaMD:
US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of
Health, NCI. NIH Pub. No. 02-5074, October
Putting an end to deception. Proceedings of the International Expert
Panel on cigarette descriptors, Quebec 2001. A report to the Canadian
Minister of Health from the Ministerial Advisory Council on Tobacco
Control. Ottawa: Canadian
Council for Tobacco Control. January 2002.
 Laugesen M. Fowles J.
Marlboro Ultrasmooth – a potentially
reduced exposure cigarette? Tobacco Control 2006; 15:430-435
Borland R, Yong HH, King B, Cummings MK, Fong GT, Elton-Marshall T, Hammond
D, McNeill A. Use of and beliefs about light cigarettes in four
countries: findings from the International Tobacco Control Policy
Evaluation Survey. Nic Tob Res
2004; 6: S 4, S311-S321.
King B, Borland R. What was ‘light’ and ‘mild’ is
now ‘smooth’ and ‘fine’: new labeling of
Australian cigarettes. Letter. Tobacco Control 2005; 14: 214-5.
Clark T. Mild, light cigarette labels banned. The Courier Mail (Australia)
7 Nov. 2005.