WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cigarette makers will no longer be able to use government guidance from 1966 to argue that U.S. authorities view cigarettes with less tar and nicotine as safer.
The Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday it voted 4-0 to rescind its guidance which had allowed tobacco companies to put tar and nicotine figures on cigarette packages derived from the Cambridge Filter Method.
The agency said the numbers were misleading because smokers tend to inhale more deeply when they smoke cigarettes with less tar and nicotine.
“The commission believes the statements of tar and nicotine yields as measured by this test method are confusing at best, and are likely to mislead consumers,” it said in its Federal Register notice.
The commission declined to weigh in on whether it would oppose the use of terms like “light” and “ultra low,” saying that the Justice Department was already fighting that battle before the courts.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in 2006 that tobacco companies, including Altria Group Inc and its Philip Morris USA unit, had violated federal racketeering law in conspiring to conceal the dangers of smoking.
She also ordered the companies to cease using expressions such as “low tar” or light” in their cigarette marketing.
Her order was stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which is still to issue its ruling.
Other companies and trade groups appealing Kessler’s ruling are: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit of Reynolds American Inc, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard Inc, Vector Group Ltd’s Liggett Group, British American Tobacco Ltd., the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute.
The appeals court may wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides a similar case brought by former smokers who say they were misled by the terms “light” and “low tar” into believing such cigarettes were safer.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said tobacco companies had been using the FTC rule as cover when they were accused of misleading consumers on the safety of low tar and nicotine cigarettes.
“When challenged, the tobacco companies tried to claim that they were only doing what the federal government allowed them to do,” he said. “It took the FTC too long to act but today’s decision is an important decision to protect consumers.”
Philip Morris USA said it was studying the rule change.
“Philip Morris USA has worked with the FTC on this topic for many years and remains committed to working with the FTC and other federal authorities to identify and adopt a standardized testing methodology that improves on the Cambridge Method,” the company said in a statement.
Messages left with other tobacco companies were not immediately returned.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn