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CHESTER, Va. -- In what could significantly impact the way cigarettes are marketed, Star Scientific Inc. said it would become the first U.S. tobacco company to stop identifying its cigarettes as "light" or "ultralight," which critics say mislead smokers into believing the cigarettes are safer.
The Chester, Va., company sent letters to other cigarette manufacturers and lawmakers this week indicating it would drop the terms from its Vegas cigarette brand by the end of September, the Associated Press reported.
Company spokeswoman Sara Machir said Star will consider whether to remove the terms from its other brands -- Main Street, Sport and Gsmoke. Star products account for less than 1 percent of U.S. cigarette sales, the report said.
Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for Philip Morris Inc., said the nation's largest tobacco company would continue using the terms. "We think they provide useful points of comparison regarding the characteristics of various cigarette brands, such as strength of taste and reported tar yields," he said.
Lawyers in 11 states have filed class-action lawsuits against Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Brown & Williamson Corp. over the use of terms such as "light," saying they constitute a deliberate attempt to mislead smokers. The lawsuits seek billions of dollars in damages for alleged violations of consumer protection laws, the report said.
The tobacco industry uses the term "light" to describe cigarettes with less than 15 milligrams of tar, a carcinogen produced when tobacco is burned. Tar helps deliver nicotine to smokers. In the letter to other companies and lawmakers, obtained by the Associated Press, Star Chairman Paul Perito cited a National Cancer Institute study published last year that found smoking light cigarettes does not decrease smoking-related disease.
The study found that while the cigarettes yield less tar and nicotine when tested on government-approved machines, real smokers tend to inhale more deeply and take more puffs.