(LAWFUEL) – Cigarette smokers should not be misled into thinking that ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes are less harmful to their health, when compared to full strength tobacco products.
The Commerce Commission, acting on complaints, has been investigating whether the use of the descriptors ‘light’ and ‘mild’ on cigarettes could be potentially misleading under the Fair Trading Act.
As a result of the investigation the Commission has issued warnings to three major tobacco companies supplying the New Zealand market – British American Tobacco (New Zealand) Limited, Imperial Tobacco Co. of New Zealand Limited and Philip Morris (New Zealand) Limited.
“Our concern with descriptors such as ‘light’ and ‘mild’ is that consumers may believe they are exposing themselves to less harm if they smoke these cigarettes, as compared to regular strength cigarettes,” says Commerce Commission Director of Fair Trading Adrian Sparrow. “Whilst technical machine testing of these products might show them to have a lower level of toxicants, our investigations suggest that the impact of human behaviour results in there being little difference between the intake of toxicants from these products and their regular strength counterparts.”
“Our investigations reveal a body of evidence to suggest that smokers who use ‘light’ and ‘mild’ tobacco products may compensate in their smoking behaviour, by inhaling more deeply when smoking these products, by using the filters differently or by smoking more cigarettes to receive the same or nearly the same amounts of toxicants as they would obtain through smoking regular strength cigarettes,” says Mr Sparrow.
“The bottom line is smoking causes many diseases, including cancer. There is no such thing as a safe, or safer, cigarette. If you smoke ‘light’ or ‘mild’ cigarettes believing these to be less harmful to your health you are probably fooling yourself,” says Mr Sparrow.
The Commission considers that the use of the descriptors ‘light’ and ‘mild’ risks misleading consumers, and therefore risks breaching the Fair Trading Act. The Commission has decided to deal with the issue by warning British American Tobacco (New Zealand) Limited, Imperial Tobacco Co of New Zealand Limited and Philip Morris (New Zealand) Limited.
“It was important to the Commission that the potential for consumers to be misled by these descriptors was removed and this has been achieved without the need for litigation,” says Mr Sparrow.
During the investigation, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco gave the Commission assurances that they would remove the descriptors from their packaging. Philip Morris has undertaken to do the same by 17 October 2008 and the Commission will monitor the position in respect of those products before concluding that investigation.
The terms ‘light’ and ‘mild’ were used with low yield cigarettes. These cigarettes contain 12mg of tar or less. Cigarettes containing more than 12mg of tar are regarded as full strength cigarettes.
Up until 28 February 2008 the Smoke-Free Environments Regulations 1999 required the publishing of yield data (tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine) on the side of manufactured cigarette packaging (based on testing conducted under the ISO machine testing method). There is no longer a requirement to publish this information – but publication of it has not been banned.