Cigarette makers agree that “light” and “mild” mislead

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has announced that it has obtained court-enforceable undertakings from British American Tobacco Australia Limited and Philip Morris Limited to remove ‘light’, ‘mild’ and similar descriptors from their products. The
companies will also pay $8 million in total to the ACCC to fund anti-smoking information campaigns and programs.

BAT and Philip Morris are the two largest Australian tobacco companies, with a combined Australian market share of approximately 80 per cent.

"The ACCC has been seeking an industry wide solution to this important consumer health issue. However Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited, the third largest tobacco company in Australia with a market
share of 20 per cent, has refused to cooperate with the ACCC", ACCC Chairman Mr Samuel said.

The ACCC’s investigations led the ACCC to the view that the tobacco companies, in using descriptors on cigarette brands and packaging such as ‘light’, ‘mild’, ‘medium’ etc and numbers (ie. ‘1’,’4′, ‘7’ etc), represented to consumers through the descriptors and related marketing and packaging that there were health benefits in smoking those brands (known as low yield cigarettes due to claimed machine tested average lower yields of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide) compared to higher yielding or full strength cigarette brands.

In the ACCC’s view, such health claims for low yield cigarettes were likely to have breached section 52 (misleading and deceptive conduct provision) and other sections of the Trade Practices Act 1974, for reasons including the fact that it was generally known that smokers can, and do, compensate for claimed lower yields by smoking cigarettes in ways that obtain higher yields of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than indicated on the packets.

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