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FTC Removes Justification for Low-Tar Claims

Could Lead to Renewed Lawsuits Over 'Light' Cigarettes

By Published on .

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- It may seem like one of those dull technical matters, but the Federal Trade Commission's decision to withdraw its endorsement of the Cambridge Filter Method is the latest of a thousand cuts killing tobacco marketing. The latest step will likely force tobacco marketers to give up on "low tar" claims and, more importantly, will make it easier for critics to go after "light" cigarettes.
With the FTC's withdrawal of its endorsement of the Cambridge Filter Method, tobacco makers will no longer be able to make low-tar claims.
With the FTC's withdrawal of its endorsement of the Cambridge Filter Method, tobacco makers will no longer be able to make low-tar claims. Credit: AP

The Cambridge Filter Method was a way to compare tar and nicotine levels. The FTC's former approval allowed tobacco makers to compare brands and make low-tar claims and also to fend off state lawsuits challenging the claims. Now, that protection is gone.

"Now they risk legal action by the FTC if they use low tar and low nicotine ratings," said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Without a new industry standard, any such claims are subject to increased scrutiny.

Less reason to light up
Mr. Myers said the FTC also removes one justification tobacco makers use to call cigarettes "light."

Health advocates argue that consumers understand "light" cigarettes to be less risky and that no cigarettes should be marketed as "light" or "ultralight" because none are safer. Tobacco makers argue "light" refers to taste, not health benefits. The FTC decision means that low-tar claims can't be one element of a "light" label.

Tobacco makers had no immediate comment. Congress next year is expected to switch tobacco regulation from the FTC to the Food and Drug Administration, and part of the proposed legislation would specifically ban the use of "light" and "low tar" as terms for marketing cigarettes.

The FTC action came on a unanimous vote of FTC commissioners, with two commissioners saying it was about time for the agency to act.

"Our action today makes clear that tobacco companies cannot wrap their misleading tar and nicotine ratings in a cloak of government sponsorship," said commissioner Jon Leibowitz in a statement. "The FTC will not be a smokescreen for tobacco companies' shameful marketing practices."

Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour called the commission's action "a bold step" but urged Congress give the FDA the authority to further limit tobacco advertising.
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