Philip Morris Warns Smokers `Light' Doesn't Mean Safe
New York, Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Philip Morris Cos., the world's largest tobacco company, is putting leaflets on its light, medium, mild and ultra light cigarette packs saying they aren't safer than regular ones.
The inserts will be on about 130 million packs of cigarettes sold in the U.S., including Marlboro Lights. Packs with the leaflets started being sold in stores this month and may be available until early next year depending on sales, spokesman Brendan McCormick said.
Cigarette makers have come under greater pressure for using descriptions like ``light'' and ``low tar'' since a National Cancer Institute report indicated smokers found those labels misleading. Last week, Philip Morris put 15.8 million pamphlets in U.S. newspapers with topics ranging from health consequences of smoking to information on public health authorities.
``There is no such thing as a safe cigarette,'' Philip Morris says in the pack inserts. The cigarette maker also says the terms ``light,'' ``ultra light,'' ``medium'' and ``mild'' are meant to describe taste.
Philip Morris shares fell 35 cents to $37.75 at 3:29 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange Composite trading. They had declined 17 percent this year.
Documents in lawsuits brought by smokers and states in the 1990s showed the tobacco industry knew smokers using lower- nicotine brands compensated by covering up ventilation holes, inhaling more deeply and puffing more. That gave them a higher amount of tar and nicotine than estimated in government tests.
In March, Philip Morris was ordered to pay $150 million to the family of a smoker that claimed the company lied about the health risks associated with low-tar products. The award was reduced to $100 million in May and the decision is being appealed.
Smaller rival Star Scientific Inc. two year ago began putting inserts about ``light'' and ``ultra-light'' products on the packages of its cigarettes, which include the Mainstreet brand. British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. continued to put them on when it bought Star's Advance cigarette brand in April 2001.
The industry in 1998 agreed to pay $206 billion to 46 U.S. states to settle health-care claims after Geoffrey Bible, then- chief executive of Philip Morris, acknowledged thousands of Americans might have died from smoking-related diseases.
The leaflet distribution is a publicity tool the company is using to try to quell protests over the use of the descriptions, anti-smoking groups said.
``Philip Morris is supporting an ineffective alternative that would preserve the status quo,'' Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement. The company should remove the terms ``light,'' ``ultra light'' and ``low tar'' from its packages and fix advertising that conveys they are less harmful, he said.
Last year, the national cancer institute issued a report saying smokers get no health benefits from switching to low-tar cigarettes. The report indicated smokers had been lead by advertising to believe the cigarettes were safer. Public-health advocates have since urged a ban on using words like ``light'' and ultra light'' on packaging.
The European Union voted for a ban, starting next year, and a panel in Canada has recommended that country do the same.
Philip Morris already had information suggesting mild, medium and light cigarettes aren't safer on its Web site and puts in its ads that the amount of tar and nicotine inhaled from these depends on the smoker, McCormick said.
In September, Philip Morris petitioned the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to develop a more effective method for determining the average tar and nicotine yields from cigarettes. It also asked for package labels that include disclaimers saying low-tar brands have not proven to be safer.
The leaflet distribution was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.