New Ban on Light Cigarettes Unlikely to Stop People from Buying and Smoking Light Cigarettes


Photograph courtesy like a brick/flikr. cc-by-nc

FDA regulations imposing tough new restrictions on the tobacco industry came into force today. Among the measures are new constraints on retailers, stringent controls on how companies can market their products, and limitations on what words that can be used in brand names. The FDA was given the authority to regulate tobacco under last year's Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which it has used to bully both retailers and producers.

Among the more draconian of the new rules is a prohibition on using terms such as "light," "mild," or "low" in brand names. These types of laws are generally justified by statistics showing that many smokers believe light cigarettes are better for their health. Yet there appears to be little to no evidence that prohibiting the use of the terms has any effect on this perception. A lot of people believe withdrawal is a valid form of birth control, but that doesn't mean that banning the practice will change anything.

Quite the contrary. A 2008 study published in the journal Tobacco Control looked at a similar piece of legislation in the United Kingdom. It found that misconceptions about the health benefits of light cigarettes initially declined, but eventually rebounded. The net change in perceptions after four years was no greater in the U.K. than it was in the U.S. The study concluded that, "bans on such terms are neither sufficient to eliminate false beliefs, nor do they produce greater effects than non-regulatory measures."

In Canada, a similar law has done little more than create confusion among consumers. Canadian cigarettes are currently coded by color and different manufacturers use different color schemes—in the U.S. Marlboro Lights will become Marlboro Gold and Camel Lights will be renamed Camel Blue. The effect is that it is difficult to switch between brands of light cigarettes because customers don't know what to ask for. People often stick to using the term "light," and retailers usually know what they're talking about. In other words, the ban has not stopped the use of the term, but it has caused confusion among consumers and imposed additional costs on producers.

Unlike in the '80s when one could generally walk into a Chinese restaurant and pick up a pack of Marlboros and an order of sweet and sour pork, vending machines in facilities that permit minors are now completely illegal. On the bright side, however, it will remain legal to walk into a strip club to get a pack of Players and a lap dance.

More on the Tobacco Control Act from Reason's Jacob Sullum here and here, who wrote about the new developments earlier today here.

NEXT: I've Got the Marlboro Blues

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  1. A lot of people believe withdrawal is a valid form of birth control, but that doesn’t mean that banning the practice will change anything.

    Withdrawal is effective as birth control; at least, it’s more effective than nothing. Read the warnings that come with a pack of condoms. My girlfriend and I were actually surprised the first time we did at how effective withdrawal and the rhythm method are (though for the latter to be really effective requires some insane level of testing temperatures and mucus and such), considering the discussion in school.

    Of course, it doesn’t really work well enough, and in practice it doesn’t work that well because people fail to actually withdraw. OTOH, if you look at the data for failure rate among condoms and other contraception, those are pretty scary too.

    1. Indeed. The correct-use failure rate of coitus interruptus is about 4%, while the correct-use failure rate of a condom is 2%. The studies that have attempted to find sperm in preejaculate have failed to do so.

      Of course, coitus interruptus has its own problems, particularly the fact that it requires a great deal of self-control to use correctly.

      1. Yeah, that whole “correct use” thing is kind of an issue.

  2. Any excuse for a facial is valid.

    1. Facially valid?

      1. Ignorance is bliss, hm?

    2. Thank you for confirming that you are a sick puppy. I bet you like to choke your paramour as well during the deed.

      1. A penchant for facials equals ‘sick puppy’? Let me guess, Tulpa, you’re one of those Opus Dei folks that practice nightly ‘mortification of the flesh’, and feel great shame when you notice you have an erection when you scourge your back until it is bloody.

    3. The only valid excuse for a facial is when she refuses to open her mouth.

      1. Or shorter bohica: CIM > COF.

  3. Withdrawal is considerably more effective as a method of birth control than light cigarettes are a method of avoiding lung cancer. Withdrawal is more effective in both optimal and actual use than the Today sponge or cervical caps used by women who have already given birth. To me, that’s scary about how ineffective those methods are.

  4. LOL, of course its not gonna stop anyone from smoking. The only thing thats gonna stop people from smoking is doing away with cigarettes entirely but since Big Tobacco has lawmakers bought and paid for, it will never happen

    1. I think making cigarettes more expensive is the best bet – tax the hell out of them. But then you get smuggling.

      1. Taxing-out-of-existence vs. outlawing represents a distinction without difference.

        Now, are you content just to leave the second, actually substantial, point dangling? Maybe we could tax thinking out of existence too, so that you don’t have to deal with that.

        1. BIG difference – taxation of the idiots who smoke can provide the government funds that don’t come out of my pocket, just like lotteries and casinos do.

          PS. Income taxes haven’t eliminated income but it sure has reduced it, at least for those paying taxes.

          1. PPS. Imagine the billions to be made by taxing legalized drugs!

            Does anyone know how much all levels of government make on liquor taxes? Sure, there’s a bit of bootlegging goes untaxed but still…

            1. Sometimes, it’s a good thing to pass tax increases, or add new ones. Cutting spending is a waste of time.

          2. What about taxation of non-idiots who smoke?

            1. Only idiots smoke tobacco.

              1. Only idiots drive cars, walk around in public, or do any of a myriad other things that expose oneself to risk, too.

                But it’s fashionable to shit on smokers now. Who knows what’s next.

                1. Smoking is a dirty, smelly, nasty habit with no redeeming features. It is completely unnecessary, unlike driving or walking around in public.

                  Too bad for the addicts, but anything that will reduce the chance that they will smell up the air I have to breath is a great thing. And the extra cost just might motivate them to quit being an idiot and stop smoking.

              2. Only things that KenK approves of are OK.

    2. Annon-bot, your link is broken, are you not feeling well?

      1. Lou wouldn’t have screwed that up.

        1. Aw, I miss Lou. *tear*

    3. It’s somehow unsurprising that Anon-bot is a cigarette fascist.

      1. I dunno, usually Anon-bot has more sense than this.

        1. Indeed, Anon-bot is usually more sensible (and lucid) than any of our regular troll brigade. Maybe he’s been shacking up with Juanita…

    4. The only thing thats gonna stop people from smoking is doing away with cigarettes entirely

      Because that’s worked so well with heroin, cocaine, et al.

  5. Is today “Dead Dogs and Cigarettes” day at Reason or something?

    1. It’s “We hope Tulpa doesn’t come and post” Day.

    2. Damn it, they’re on to us!

  6. So… is there any actual proof that Lights are no safer than Full Flavor, or are they just making shit up?

    PS. I haven’t seen a vending machine in around 20 years. Then again, I live in NYS so that figures.

    1. I don’t think anyone really knows one way or the other. It has been shown that often smokers will smoke “light” or “ultra light” cigarettes differently than regular ones by inhaling more deeply, creating more of a mouth seal around the cigarette, etc. Whether this negates any possible risk reduction provided by light cigarettes is anyone’s guess. Very little research has been done regarding “harm reduction” approaches to smoking (e.g. trying to reduce the risks without expecting people to quit completely) due to the government’s quasi-prohibitionist approach to tobacco.

    2. So… is there any actual proof that Lights are no safer than Full Flavor, or are they just making shit up?

      There’s a lot of scientific data that shows this.

  7. Once clove cigarettes got outlawed, they became clove cigars, and got taken from behind the counter and put on the shelf near the candy at some retailers. Same stuff, just more accessible to kids.

    It’s not legal in here CA to do this, but a lot of retailers mistakenly believe non-cigarette tobacco can be placed anywhere. I saw this at a CVS or rite aid (can’t remember which).

  8. Camels switched from “lights” to “blue” a while ago. I never noticed the change until my brother picked me up some cigs.

    “Are these the right ones?”

    *checks last pack* “Umm, yeah, i guess so, damn when did they change that?!”

    1. I don’t give a shit what the packaging says.

    2. Retailers know which are which, and sell you what you ask for.

    I’m glad we could waste more money on some absolute bullshitmunching.

  9. BTW, about the picture accompanying the story:

    When you go looking for cleavage shots, can you try to find some that don’t include “man hands”?


    1. When you go looking for cleavage shots, can you try to find some that don’t include “man hands”?

      If you can send me some cleavage shots that are in the public domain or licensed under a CC/OSS license, I’d be happy to use them in the future.

  10. I am not at all convinced that light cigarettes are not less bad for you than regular or unfiltered. They do, in fact deliver less tar and nicotine. A smoker switching from a less light type will probably compensate in the way he smokes to get more nicotine out of it, but someone who is not a hardcore smoker who starts smoking lights, it seems to me, will not necessarily take extra large puffs or hold the smoke in and will probably actually consume less nicotine and tar and other nasty things than if they started with Camels or something else heavy, thus being less likely to become addicted and less likely to suffer bad health consequences.
    Does anyone know about the actual research (or whether such research exists) that supports the claims that lights are just as bad as unfiltered Camels?

  11. Fuck the FDA, whatever happened to the first amendment?

  12. Smoking electronic cigarettes has so many benefits when compared to tobacco. Electric cigarette is the all new alternative smoking solution that is taking the world by storm. Moreover electronic cigarettes allows to smoke a vapor that is free of carbon monoxide. This is one of the best way to quit smoking forever.

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