Some time ago, the FDA announced that they were going to ban tobacco-makers from using the word “Light” on their light product lines. The rationale was that people are smoking these things under the false impression (an impression encouraged by tobacco companies) that they were a healthier alternative to full flavor cigarettes. Whether they are indeed less destructive than real cigarettes depends on how you look at it, but in practice people who smoke lights tend to smoke more and the compensatory behavior undoes any health benefits that might exist.

It strikes me as fair to object to the term “light” and “ultra-light” in this context. As always, the tobacco companies do themselves no favors when it comes to advertising.

The end result is that tobacco companies swapped out the “light” and “ultra-light” labels with various color designations. Some tobacco control experts argue that this is a circumvention:

Manufacturers substituted “Gold” for “Light” and “Silver” for “Ultra-light” in the names of Marlboro sub-brands, and “Blue”, “Gold”, and “Silver” for banned descriptors in sub-brand names. Percent filter ventilation levels, used to generate the smoke yield ranges associated with “Lights” categories, appear to have been reassigned to the new colour brand name descriptors. Following the ban, 92% of smokers reported they could easily identify their usual brands, and 68% correctly named the package colour associated with their usual brand, while sales for “Lights” cigarettes remained unchanged.

Another word for what they did is “compliance.”

The products were not pulled off the shelf. They are not necessarily more dangerous than regular cigarettes. The problem was in the marketing. That they changed the marketing and people still found their level of choice is ultimately neither here nor there. At worst, it means that people have internalized the alleged health benefits. Just as likely, it’s because they failed to understand the cause and effect.

I rarely smoked lights. Quite the opposite: I went for the meanest, dirtiest tasting cigarettes that I could find. I never wanted smooth, I wanted rough. I don’t know if this is because of my diminished tastebuds or because I didn’t inhale. But the people I know who do or did smoke lights didn’t compensate in volume because they thought it was healthier, none of them have ever cited health benefits which have long been exposed as questionable, but they tended to smoke lights precisely because it allowed them to smoke more or more intensely. The body tires of them less quickly. You don’t feel quite as bad the next morning. If your smoking time lends itself to smoking two packs a day, and/or if you like to take harder puffs, then irrespective of health claims, smoking lights makes that more doable.

To be fair, if asked n a poll they might answer that it’s about health, but smokers are notoriously unreliable when being polled by strangers. Or perhaps they have internalized the claims, but smokers are creatures of habit and that isn’t going to be done so easily. The next generation may be duly confused as to what tar level they’re buying. So there’s that.

If more cigarettes or greater puffs were the problem that was meant to be addressed, then you need to go and ban the lighter stuff, pure and simple. I’m not sure if that would be beneficial to smokers’ health or harmful, but I simply don’t know what in the world gave them the impression that relabeling them would have any effect. The people behind the counter know where to direct them. Of course the smokers would seek out their favored products. They’re their favored product. I suppose it’s too much to ask anti-smoking advocates to know any smokers, but the assumptions that lead them to believe that there would be any conclusion other than this one suggests that they need to learn how smokers actually operate instead of making assumptions based on whatever they’re presently basing their assumptions on.

I personally think it’s a failure to appreciate that, whatever our faults, we are actually thinking, autonomous individuals and not actually living statistics of tobacco company marketing. Whatever the case, they wanted the marketing changed and the marketing was changed. That’s compliance. People didn’t care because it wasn’t strictly about the marketing. If there is a compliance failure, it is ours.

-{Regarding my precise verbiage, I do still refer to myself as a smoker. Not because of the vaping, and not because I’ve picked the smoking habit back up again, but because I still do not feel completely out of the woods yet and won’t for some time.}-

Category: Market

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