RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Goodbye, Marlboro Lights. Hello, Marlboro Gold Pack.
"Light" cigarettes are going up in smoke by the end of June, buttheir names and packaging are getting a colorful makeover.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says cigarette packs nolonger 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 asgold, silver, blue and orange on brands that make up more than halfof the smokes sold across the country.
Anti-tobacco advocates say the colors are just as bad as thewords, but tobacco companies argue they have a right to let smokersknow which products are which.
Companies insist the words tell smokers about the taste, feeland blend of a cigarette, not health risks. The cigarettes usuallyfeature different filters and milder-flavored blends.
Long years of advertising, however, emphasized measurements oflower tar and nicotine in "light" cigarettes, even though thosewere measured with smoking machines that don't mirror how realsmokers puff. For example, smokers will inhale more deeply or smokemore cigarettes if they're not getting the amount of nicotine theywant.
Studies show that about 90 percent of smokers and nonsmokersbelieve that cigarettes described as "light" or have certain colorson the packages are less harmful even though "all commercialcigarettes are equally lethal," said David Hammond, a healthbehavior researcher at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
Colors shape perceptions of risks on all products, Hammond said.For example, mayonnaise and soda usually use lighter colors ontheir packaging to distinguish between diet, light and regularproducts.
He called the removal of those few words on cigarette packs"necessary but not sufficient measures" to improve public health orreduce false perceptions.
"This is essentially mopping up the worst excesses of what thecourts in the U.S. have judged to be deceptive advertising," hesaid. "Tobacco companies are going to need words to distinguishtheir brands; it's just a question of identifying what descriptorsor words lead to false beliefs."
He suggested the FDA take the ban even further and restrict bothcolor and words such as "smooth" and "slim."
Other countries are considering going even further. TheAustralian government proposed legislation last month that wouldmake manufacturers sell cigarettes in plain, standard packaging,without colors and logos. More than 40 countries already have lawsprohibiting terms similar to what the FDA is banning.
The idea of further packaging restrictions has the industrygasping for breath.
"Absent this information, massive confusion in the marketplacewould result," James E. Swauger, vice president of regulatoryoversight for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation'ssecond-biggest cigarette company, wrote in a letter to the FDA.
Swauger warned that, if the FDA were to go as far as banningcolors, consumers wouldn't be able to distinguish between brands,and manufacturers could be limited to one type of cigarette perbrand because they'd have no other way to distinguish theirproducts.
The company, owned by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based ReynoldsAmerican Inc., made slight changes to some of its brands' packs,but for some, it was simply removing the words like "light" onalready colorful packages.
The nation's largest cigarette company, Philip Morris USA, mademore than 150 packaging changes to comply. It also has includedinserts in packs and displays at retail locations telling customersto "In the Future, Ask For..." the new name or color of theirbrand.
For example, the company is replacing its Marlboro Lightcigarettes with Marlboro Gold Pack; its Marlboro Menthol Milds willbe known as Marlboro Menthol Blue Pack. Philip Morris USA is ownedby Altria Group Inc., based in Richmond, Va.
While customers may already see some of the new packaging instores, calling their smokes by their old names may be a harderhabit to break than smoking itself.
"I'll ask for Newport Light 100s, and I'll let them decipherit," said 52-year-old Joe McKenna, a teacher and longtime smokerfrom Pearl River, N.Y., whose brand made by Lorillard Inc. is nowknown as Newport Menthol Gold. "It's just kind of ridiculous in thesense that you know they're harmful for you."
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