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Health

Study: Tobacco industry circumvents new FDA rules, misleads public

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Food and Drug Adminstration
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While minor changes like the ban of words like "light" and "mild" went into effect last summer, more conspicuous on-box attempts to curb smoking will start showing up over the next few years.

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About a year ago, cigarette packs changed again. Terms like “light,” “low” and “mild” were banned by the Food and Drug Administration.

Now, studies at Roswell Park Cancer Institute are showing tobacco companies are finding ways around the new restrictions.

Cigarette marketing has long sought to build an image and a feeling around using the product, rather than the act and consequences doing so. Almost every aspect of a consumer’s interaction with tobacco is there for a reason.

“Packs that have cigarettes that are skinny and tall are more attractive to women,” says Maansi Bansal-Travers, a research scientist at Roswell Park Health Behavior Department.

Recently Bansal-Travers and colleagues authored a trio of studies examining how the tobacco industry reacted to new restrictions. For example, Marlboro Lights are now Marlboro Gold. Ultra Lights are now labeled Marlboro Silver.

So what were the ripple effects in terms of consumers’ attitudes and habits? Few to speak of, says Bansal-Travels.

“All the studies found that colors are misleading. That smokers and non-smokers are deriving misperceptions from these colors. All cigarettes are the same, they’re all harmful to your health, whether they’re in a box that says light, or silver or gold or blue, they’re all bad for you,” Bansal-Travers says.

More changes to come

“The removal of terms was a good start. But that replacing words is still misleading. Removing more than the terms is required,” Bansal-Travers says.

But the status quo won’t be around for long. More changes are coming to a cigarette pack near you, like larger warning labels with more bluntly-worded statements.

Also, graphic images, some which could depict an individual in a casket or a shirtless man laying on a gurney with a sutured chest.

And all colors and words may be banned eventually, says Bansal-Travers.

“It [could be] a brown cardboard-colored box that has a brand name in black font. It has no design features. It just says the name of the brand,” Bansal-Travers says.

Despite a multitude of studies demonstrating the link between tobacco and health problems, restrictions on advertising, on-box warnings and heavy taxation, cigarette use continues.

“One-third of the cancers in the Roswell Park Hospital are tobacco-related,” says Bansal-Travers. 

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