• FTC Dumps 42-Year-Old Low-Tar, Nicotine Test
  • August 18, 2008
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Under a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission, tobacco companies will no longer be permitted to imply agency endorsement of ads stating cigarettes are “light” or “low-tar.”
    The proposal would repeal a 1996 policy that allowed tobacco ads to cite tar and nicotine amounts “per FTC method.” The agency states that it no longer believes the test accurately measures risk and it does not want smokers to think some cigarettes are safe.

    “We want to clarify the FTC’s position,” says Associate Director Mary Engle. “This test method does not have our stamp of approval.”

    Engle says that she does not expect ads will change much as a result of any new policy, since some do not mention tar and nicotine levels and others do so only in fine print.

    The FTC proposal says the agency started permitting tobacco ads to state tar and nicotine levels “per FTC method” in 1966 with the aim of giving smokers an informed choice on the relative risks of different cigarettes. At the time, it was believed that a low amount of tar could reduce a smoker’s risk of cancer.

    Although the test showed tar and nicotine levels falling sharply over the past four decades, the levels turned out to be poor predictors of risk, the agency says. That’s because smokers of lower-yield cigarettes compensate by taking bigger, deeper, or more frequent puffs to get the amount of nicotine they want.

    The agency is accepting public comments on the proposal until August 12. Engle says if the proposal becomes final, the agency will inform consumers that advertised tar and nicotine levels are not an accurate gauge for safe smoking.