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'Silver', 'gold' and 'slim' cigarettes misleading many smokers

April 13, 2011 - Washington

For decades, experts have warned that all conventional brands of cigarette present the same level of risk to smokers, including 'mild' and 'low-tar' brands.

However, despite these warnings, a new study has revealed that many smokers in Western countries still believe that cigarettes labelled 'silver', 'gold' and 'slim' are less harmful than others.

Researchers polled over 8,000 smokers from Australia, Canada, the UK and the U.S.

Approximately one-fifth of those smokers incorrectly believed that 'some cigarette brands could be less harmful than others'.

False beliefs were highest among the U.S. smokers.

The current study showed that smokers base their perceptions of risk on pack colour, believing that 'silver', 'gold' and 'white' brands are less harmful to smoke than 'black' or 'red' brands.

The reason for those beliefs may lie in the history of cigarette branding.

Cigarettes used to carry labels like 'light', 'mild', and 'low tar', and in some places they still do.

But in over 50 countries cigarette manufacturers are no longer allowed to use those labels because they are misleading.

In some cases, cigarette manufacturers simply changed their 'light' cigarettes to 'silver' and 'gold' brands-for example, Marlboro Lights has become Marlboro Gold.

A significant percentage of smokers now seem to equate those colours with low-risk cigarettes.

Smokers in the study also revealed false beliefs that slim cigarettes are less harmful, cigarettes with harsh taste are riskier to smoke than smooth-tasking cigarettes, filters reduce risk, and nicotine is responsible for most of the cancer caused by cigarettes.

David Hammond, one of the researchers on the study, said that the study provides evidence for further regulation.

"The findings highlight the deceptive potential of 'slim' cigarette brands targeted primarily at young women. The findings also support the potential benefits of plain packaging regulations that will soon take effect in Australia, under which all cigarettes will be sold in packages with the same plain colour, without graphics or logos," he said.

The study is published in the current issue of journal Addiction.


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