Despite the plethora of stringent efforts made in reforming the 'tobacco lobby', health experts from Oxford University insist that packaging styles are still misleading consumers over health hazards.
Most of the smokers believe that cigarettes are less hazardous when the packs display words such as "silver" or "smooth," have lower numbers incorporated into the brand name or have lighter colours or pictures of filters on the pack.
AdvertisementCanadian researchers call for the list of words banned from cigarette packaging to be expanded beyond the current prohibition of "light," "mild" and "low-tar" and suggest that other pack design elements may need to be eliminated to prevent consumers erroneously believing that one brand is less harmful than another.
"Research has already shown that using words such as 'light,' 'mild' and 'low tar' on cigarette packaging misleads consumers into thinking that one brand carries a lower health risk than another and that's why those words have been outlawed in more than 50 countries," said the study's leader, David Hammond, a professor of health studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
"Our study found that commonly-used words not covered by the bans, as well as other packaging design elements such as colour, the use of numbers and references to filters, were just as misleading, which means there's a loophole that needs to be closed" he added.
In the study, the researchers looked at 603 adults using nine pairs of fictitious cigarette packet replicas incorporating words and design elements commonly used by leading international brands.
Each pair differed in only a single design aspect - either a word such as "silver" versus "full-flavour" or "smooth" versus "regular" or "mild" versus "regular" or "light" versus "ultra-light"; a number incorporated into the brand name, such as 6 versus 10; a colour such as light blue versus darker blue or white versus grey and the presence of an illustration of a filter with the words "charcoal filter" written above it.
They found that a total of 80pct said they believed the package labelled "smooth" would be less hazardous than the one labelled "regular."
Similarly, 73pct judged the brand labelled "silver" as less hazardous than the one labelled "full-flavour".
In addition, 84pct thought the pack with "6" in the brand name carried less health risk than the one with "10" in it.
Almost 79pct believed that the lighter blue pack would have a lower health risk than the darker blue one and 76pct said the one depicting a charcoal filter would not be as bad for their health as the one without such an illustration.
The misconceptions were more marked in smokers, and more prevalent among smokers of so-called "light" or "mild" brands than among other smokers.
"The truth is that all cigarettes are equally hazardous, regardless of the filter type, what colour the pack is or what words appear on it," Hammond said.
"These tactics are giving consumers a false sense of reassurance that simply does not exist," he added.
The study appears in the Journal of Public Health.
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