Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Failed Promise of the FDA Tobacco Law: Ban on Light Cigarettes Goes Up in Smoke, as Predicted

Waxman and Anti-Smoking Groups, Not Tobacco Companies, are the Ones Who Played a Trick on the American People and Pulled the Wool Over their Eyes

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, two of the major public health victories from the passage of the FDA tobacco legislation -- which were supposed to save "countless lives" -- were the ban on flavored cigarettes and the ban on the use of descriptors like "light" and "low-tar" that mislead consumers into believing that these cigarettes are safer.

But one by one, these (false) promises have come tumbling to the ground.

First, it was the promise that the ban on flavored cigarettes would break the cycle of addiction by helping to end the tobacco industry's ability to addict our nation's children. The Campaign wrote that: "The ban on candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes is a critical step to end one of the most insidious tactics the tobacco industry has used to target and addict children."

But the truth came out: not a single product produced by Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, or Lorillard was affected by the cigarette flavoring ban, very few youths smoke products that are affected by the ban, and in the entire cigarette market, less than 0.2% of all cigarettes consumed are flavored cigarettes covered by the ban. The truth is that far from being a critical step to halt addiction, this aspect of the law does literally nothing to protect kids from addiction.

Now, it is the promise that the ban on descriptors such as "light" and "low-tar" will eliminate the deception of consumers, who are led to believe that these products are safer because of this terminology.

In its propaganda supporting the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the Campaign suggested that this legislation would "end the tobacco industry's deceptive marketing of "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes."

The Rest of the Story

This week, we found out that this too was a false promise from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the other anti-smoking groups. According to an Associated Press article by Michael Felberbaum, cigarette companies are simply renaming their "light" cigarettes with distinctive colors, making it clear to consumers what the new brands are:

"Goodbye, Marlboro Lights. Hello, Marlboro Gold Pack. "Light" cigarettes are going up in smoke by the end of June, but their names and packaging are getting a colorful makeover. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says cigarette packs no longer can feature names such as "light," "mild," "medium" or "low," which many smokers wrongly think are less harmful than "full-flavor" cigarettes. Cigarette makers are replacing those words with colors such as gold, silver, blue and orange on brands that make up more than half of the smokes sold across the country.
Anti-tobacco advocates say the colors are just as bad as the words, but tobacco companies argue they have a right to let smokers know which products are which." ...

"The nation's largest cigarette company, Philip Morris USA, made more than 150 packaging changes to comply. It also has included inserts in packs and displays at retail locations telling customers to "In the Future, Ask For..." the new name or color of their brand. For example, the company is replacing its Marlboro Light cigarettes with Marlboro Gold Pack; its Marlboro Menthol Milds will be known as Marlboro Menthol Blue Pack. Philip Morris USA is owned by Altria Group Inc., based in Richmond, Va."

"While customers may already see some of the new packaging in stores, calling their smokes by their old names may be a harder habit to break than smoking itself. "I'll ask for Newport Light 100s, and I'll let them decipher it," said 52-year-old Joe McKenna, a teacher and longtime smoker from Pearl River, N.Y., whose brand made by Lorillard Inc. is now known as Newport Menthol Gold. "It's just kind of ridiculous in the sense that you know they're harmful for you."

According to an article in USA Today, anti-smoking groups and policy makers accused the tobacco companies of evading the law by renaming their "light" cigarette brands as colors:

"In anticipation of a ban against using words such as "light" or "mild" on cigarette labels and ads, tobacco companies have lightened package colors to convey the same message, a move the American Lung Association and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., have attacked as disingenuous. ... As an FDA guidance document notes, many smokers mistakenly believe that cigarettes labeled "light" or "mild" "cause fewer health problems" than others. As for the color changes, "this is a transparent attempt by the tobacco industry to evade the law and mislead consumers," Waxman said Friday."

The Truth

The truth is that Bill Godshall and I predicted, years ago, that exactly this scenario would unfold: the cigarette flavoring ban would have no effect because no cigarettes were actually affected by the ban (menthol cigarettes are exempt) and the "lights" ban would have no effect because cigarette companies would start using coloring to convey the differences between "lights" and other brands.

Of course, Philip Morris knew all of this going into its negotiations with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. So the question is whether the Campaign was simply outsmarted by Philip Morris or whether the Campaign actually knew that this was the case and decided to deliberately mislead its constituents and the public.

Either way, the rest of the story is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' and other anti-smoking groups' promises about the FDA tobacco legislation were false promises. They were pure propaganda.

The Campaign must have known that the cigarette companies would simply rename their "light" cigarette brands and that consumers would continue to associate the new brands with the old "light" brands. Why, then, did they mislead their constituents and the public by asserting that the FDA tobacco law would end the deception of consumers about "light" cigarettes?

While Representative Waxman and the anti-smoking groups are complaining that it is the tobacco industry that has played a trick on the American people, it's actually the other way around. It is Waxman and the anti-smoking groups which have deceived the American people and played a dirty trick on us. They told us that their legislation would end the deception of the public regarding light cigarettes. Yet they knew all along that the cigarette companies could easily get around the ban on "light" terminology.

In fact, the cigarette companies are doing nothing unlawful. Think about this: they have to rename their brands. They have no choice about that. Otherwise, there would be mass consumer confusion and no one would know what brand was which.

So if they have to rename their brands, then whatever name they use to denote a cigarette that was previously a "light" brand, that name will now be associated with the former "light" cigarettes. As Joe the teacher noted insightfully, consumers will most likely continue to ask for "Marlboro Lights" anyway, and retailers will simply inform them of the new brand name. It really doesn't matter what the new name is. No matter what name the tobacco companies had chosen, it would be associated with the old "lights" brand name.

Let me make something very clear. Had it been Congress', Waxman's, and the anti-smoking groups intention to end the deception they claim is being caused by "light" cigarettes, then they would have made sure that the legislation they enacted or supported simply removed "light" cigarettes from the market.

But the law didn't do that. It specifically chose not to remove these brands from the market, which would have directly handled the problem. Instead, these policy makers and anti-smoking groups pulled off a snow job. They allowed the products to be renamed and to remain on the market.

The truth is that no matter what the tobacco companies renamed their products, the anti-smoking groups would have attacked them and accused them of evading and circumventing the law. Philip Morris could have renamed Marlboro Lights as Marlboro Classics, and the anti-smoking groups would have (correctly) noted that everyone knows that Marlboro Classics are really Marlboro Lights.

Let's face it. Even without a package onsert, consumers are going to find out that if they want Marlboro Lights, they need to ask for Marlboro Golds, Marlboro Classics, or whatever Philip Morris had decided to use as the new name for Marlboro Lights.

All of this hullabaloo over the tobacco companies evading the law is nothing more than an attempt to hide the real deception and evasion that occurred: the massive deception of the public by the anti-smoking groups and policy makers who lied about the FDA tobacco legislation, telling us that it would accomplish things that these groups knew it would not and could not accomplish.

On this occasion, it is the anti-smoking groups, not the tobacco companies, which are pulling one over on the American people.

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