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Cigarette Packs Adjust for FDA Regulations

RICHMOND, Va. -- Current Marlboro Lights cigarette consumers will have to get used to new lingo when asking for their brand of choice at tobacco retailers and convenience stores, as tobacco companies are adjusting labels and brands to conform to new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations going into effect June 22.

The FDA ruled cigarette packs no longer can feature names such as "light," "mild," "medium" or "low," as adult smokers may wrongly think are less harmful than their "full-flavor" counterparts, The Associated Press reported. Because of this, cigarette manufacturers are removing the wording and emphasizing the colors of the packs.

For example, what is today known as Marlboro Lights will be known as Marlboro Gold, and its Marlboro Menthol Milds will be known as Marlboro Menthol Blue Pack. Philip Morris USA, owned by Altria Group, made more than 150 packaging changes to comply with the new restrictions, according to the report. It also included inserts in packs and displays at retail locations telling customers, "In the Future, Ask For..." with identifiers of the new names or brands.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., made slight changes to some of its brands' packs, but for some, it was simply removing the words like "light" on already colorful packages, the AP reported.

Customers may find asking for their new brand cumbersome.

"I'll ask for Newport Light 100s, and I'll let them decipher it," 52-year-old Joe McKenna, a teacher and longtime smoker from Pearl River, N.Y., told the AP. McKenna's 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."

Anti-tobacco advocates, though, say colors are just as bad as the words, the AP stated. Tobacco companies argue they have the right to let adult smokers know which products are which.

Companies insist the words tell smokers about the taste, feel and blend of a cigarette, not health risks. The cigarettes usually feature different filters and milder-flavored blends.

Studies show that about 90 percent of smokers and nonsmokers believe cigarettes described as "light" or have packages with certain colors are less harmful, David Hammond, a health behavior researcher at the University of Waterloo in Canada, told the AP.

Colors shape perceptions of risks on all products, Hammond said in the report, giving as an example mayonnaise and soda, which usually use lighter colors on packaging to distinguish between diet, light and regular products.

He called the removal of the words on cigarette packs "necessary, but not sufficient measures" to improve public health or reduce false perceptions.

"This is essentially mopping up the worst excesses of what the courts in the U.S. have judged to be deceptive advertising," he told the AP. "Tobacco companies are going to need words to distinguish their brands; it's just a question of identifying what descriptors or words lead to false beliefs."

He suggested further restrictions on both colors and words such as "smooth" and "slim."

But the tobacco industry argues that further packaging restrictions will cause confusion.

"Absent this information, massive confusion in the marketplace would result," James E. Swauger, vice president of regulatory oversight for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., wrote in a letter to the FDA. If the FDA were to ban colors, consumers wouldn't be able to distinguish between brands, and manufacturers could be limited to one type of cigarette per brand, as they'd have no other way to distinguish their products, he wrote in the letter.

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