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Changes to Cigarette Labels in the US to Take Effect by the End of June

Cigarette manufacturers will soon have to replace words like "light," "mild," and "medium" with colors to reflect the type of cigarette that the box contains.

By the end of this month, cigarette labels sold in the US will no longer feature words such as “light,” “mild,” “medium,” or “low”—words that the FDA calls misleading. The FDA believes that these words make smokers think that one type of “mild” cigarette is less harmful than a regular cigarette. Now, these words will be replaced by colors such as gold, silver, blue, and orange.

According to David Hammond, health behavior researcher, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, colors shape consumers’ perceptions of risk in relation to all products, using mayonnaise and soda as examples, where manufacturers use lighter colors on labels to distinguish among diet, light, and regular products. Cigarette packaging will now also use colors to distinguish between different types of light, mild, and other types of cigarettes.

Anti-tobacco advocates claim that the colors will be just as misleading as the words, while tobacco companies argue that they have the right to inform consumers about the different taste, feel, and blend of a particular cigarette.

Cigarette advertising has “emphasized measurements of lower tar and nicotine in ‘light’ cigarettes,” but studies reveal that these measurements were not truly reflective of real smoking behavior. Smokers who are not inhaling the amount of nicotine they desire will inhale more deeply or smoke more cigarettes, factors that the wording of advertisements does not account for, according to Hammond.

Hammond also called the removal of these words from cigarette packaging “necessary,” but he also went on to say that it is “not sufficient” for improving public health and reducing public perceptions.

Over 40 countries already have laws in place that are similar to the upcoming FDA ban, and several more are considering taking the prohibitions a step further. Last month, the Australian government proposed legislation that would force manufacturers to sell cigarettes in plain, standard packaging that has no colors or labels.