1) In 1998/99, Health Canada conducted an extensive study of smokers’ attitudes towards ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes.(1) Key findings, as summarized on Health Canada’s website:
- 39% of smokers who switched from a regular to a "light" or "mild" brand did so for health reasons and 18% switched as a step toward quitting.
- 47% of smokers think that "light" means lower in tar, nicotine or carbon monoxide; 28% believe that "mild" means lower in tar, nicotine or carbon monoxide.
- When asked whether the terms were confusing, 59% of Canadian smokers said they find "light" and "mild" descriptors confusing and 38% said they would like more information about the meaning of these terms.
2) In January 1999, Health Canada issued an official advisory, warning consumers that ‘light’ and ‘mild’ tobacco products “have the same potential to be debilitating and lethal as other types of tobacco.”
3) In March 2001, the Attorney General of Canada filed an amended defence in Imperial Tobacco Canada Limited v. Attorney General of Canada (in which the tobacco industry is seeking to have the federal Tobacco Act overturned). On the topic of ‘light’ and ‘mild’, the Government stated:
“In fact, ‘low tar’ products, more often than not described as ‘light’, ‘ultra light’, or ‘extra light’, etc., were marketed as to induce smokers to believe that these products were less damageable to health thus with the potential result of inducing would be quitters not to cease smoking but to smoke cigarettes with a lower tar and nicotine yield and wrongly believing that these products would be healthier. […]
“At no time, the tobacco industry ever communicated to its consumers the results of its research on low tar cigarettes nor informed them that low tar cigarettes were not safe replacements to regular cigarettes.”
4) In August 2001, Health Minister Allan Rock, speaking at the annual conference of the Canadian Medical Association, had this to say: “The industry’s marketing practices deliberately disguise and ignore [the] facts. They imply that ‘light’ and ‘mild’ are safe alternatives. Well, the evidence is clearly to the contrary. Labelling cigarettes as ‘light’ and ‘mild’ offers smokers a false sense of security based on slick marketing and the misuse of words.”
5) In October 2001, Health Canada ran an extensive national media campaign, including television ads, describing the terms ‘light’ and ‘mild’ as “deceptive and deadly. To quote: “No one would label a hazardous product like this light or mild. Except the Tobacco Industry.”
6) In December 2001, Health Canada published a Notice of Intent to Regulate. “In recent years, scientific data verify that, depending upon how smokers use cigarettes, ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes may deliver the same amount of tar and nicotine to smokers as ‘regular’ cigarettes and can be as harmful to their health. Nevertheless, a number of smokers believe that switching to cigarettes labelled ‘light’ and ‘mild’ reduces their exposure to harmful substances.”
(1) Environics, “Smokers’ Attitudes Towards ‘Light’ and ‘Mild’ Cigarettes, prepared for Health Canada Office for Tobacco Control.