Campaign: Light
Theme: Light, Super & Ultra Light



The ads in this theme document the decades of deceptive advertisement campaigns for light cigarettes. In the 1970s, the tobacco industry began heavily promoting light cigarettes as low-tar and low-nicotine alternatives to quitting. However, the FDA has determined that light and ultra-light cigarettes are no safer than regular cigarettes. In fact, internal industry documents reveal that from the very beginning, tobacco companies were well aware that smokers compensated for the low-nicotine draw from light cigarettes by changing their smoking behaviors. A brand of cigarette, for example, might register on the FTC Test Method as containing 12 mg of tar and 0.9 mg of nicotine per cigarette, but in actuality, a human smoker of the same brand would be able to receive much more tar and nicotine than the machine smoker by smoking the light cigarette in a different manner.

Indeed, since the 1966 release of the ISO machine-smoking method (used by the FTC to determine the tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide yield of cigarettes), the industry has worked intensively to create a product that would outsmart the testing equipment. For one, the tobacco companies discovered that added perforations on cigarette filters resulted in low tar and nicotine readings from the FTC Test Method, as clean air diluted the smoke inhaled by the machine; however, human smokers, unlike the machine smoker, are smoking for the nicotine kick. Often, this desire for nicotine causes human smokers to take longer, bigger, or quicker puffs on light cigarettes, since the cigarette provides less nicotine per normal puff. Additionally, smokers of light cigarettes often smoke more cigarettes per day than smokers of regular cigarettes. Sometimes (usually in the case of super light or ultra light cigarettes), smokers instinctively cover the perforations on the filters with their lips or fingers as they draw in, resulting in a very high intake of nicotine and tar from the cigarette (1). Because of these wide variations between human smokers and machine smokers, the FTC Test Method is now widely considered to be misleading for consumers.

The FDA was granted regulatory authority over tobacco products in 2009, and with this change came many new regulations, one of which directly concerns light cigarettes: As of July 2010, the words mild, low, or light are not to be used on tobacco products as they cause consumers to underestimate their health risks. This means that brands previously marketed as light or low-tar can no longer include these words on their packaging or advertising. Unsurprisingly, tobacco manufacturers have figured out a creative way to escape this regulation. Now, they rely on different colored packages to indicate whether a certain product is light, ultra-light, or full-flavor. The colors vary slightly among brands, but generally adhere to the following standards: red indicates regular; dark green indicates menthol; light green, blue, or gold indicate previously light cigarettes; and silver or orange indicate previously ultra light cigarettes. Camel, for example, replaced their Camel Lights product with Camel Blue. Philip Morris stuck with the idea that lighter shades indicate a lighter cigarette, and thus Marlboro Lights became Marlboro Gold, and Marlboro Ultra-Lights became Marlboro Silver. Likewise, R.J. Reynolds Salem Ultra-Lights became Salem Silver Box. The FDA has regulatory authority to demand that tobacco companies discontinue their color branding techniques in the future.

1. Kozlowski, T. and R. J. O Connor. Cigarette filter ventilation is a defective design because of misleading taste, bigger puffs, and blocked vents. Tobacco Control. 2002; 11: i40-i50.

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