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(June 4, 2001) OTTAWA -- Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock has hinted he'll force tobacco marketers to pull the "confusing descriptors" of "light" and "mild" from their cigarette packaging if they don't do it voluntarily.

"We know that many smokers have switched to smoking 'light' brands in the mistaken belief that such cigarettes are less harmful to their health, but the time has come to dispel the myths," Mr. Rock said.

"We know that many adult smokers confuse 'light' or 'mild' cigarettes with a safer cigarette," he added in a newly released letter to Canada's tobacco companies.

"The truth is, of course, that smoking any cigarette is harmful to health," said Mr. Rock, who cited tobacco industry documents suggesting lighter cigarettes are used as a way to appeal to smokers who might try to quit.

"I have asked my officials and advisers to further investigate this issue, to gather the science and other evidence, and to advise me on a course of action, which could include regulation or prohibition," Mr. Rock said in his letter.

Canada's tobacco marketers counter that they never made health claims about lighter cigarettes, which have lower tar levels than regular cigarettes.

Market leader Imperial Tobacco of Montreal -- whose brands include Player's Light, Player's Extra Light and Medallion Ultra Mild -- points to complex issues arising from Mr. Rock's challenge.

"We intend to study the numerous legal, scientific and commercial ramifications of his request and respond to it as soon as possible," Imperial said. -- Stephen Barrington

Copyright June 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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