Provisions of a new US law signed by President Obama last year have gone into effect, including banning the branding of cigarettes as "light" or "mild or "low-tar." The law also bans tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events including sporting competitions and concerts. In addition, the law restricts giving away free samples.
Over the past two decades the FDA has made major steps in reining in cigarette companies, by limiting marketing in general, prohibiting marketing to children, banning fruit flavored cigarettes, increasing the size of warning labels on smokeless tobacco and now removing labels that could give smokers the impression that some cigarettes are safer than others.
However, some say that the tobacco companies have already found a way around the many of the new regulations. New color-coded packs have come out that label different packs as gold and silver. "With a wink and a nod, the tobacco industry has found new ways to continue their deceptive marketing practices to circumvent the new regulations," said Charles Connor, president of the American Lung Association. "For example, they must drop the word 'light' in their packaging, but have already made it clear to their customers that if they want lights, they just need to look for a package in a specific color, such as gold."
Marlboro is already under pressure from the FDA, after Marlboro released an advertisement that said, "Your Marlboro Lights pack is changing. But your cigarette stays the same. In the future, ask for 'Marlboro in the gold pack." Depending on the perspective, this could be either proper informative information, or a deliberate attempt to defy the regulations.
In the future, the FDA tobacco regulators may take even more aggressive steps against the tobacco companies. The law does not allow a total ban on tobacco or the addictive ingredient nicotine, but it does allow the FDA to regulate the nicotine content. The former FDA Commissioner said in an interview with The Associated Press that the agency could lower nicotine to non-addictive levels. "The tobacco industry knew 40 years ago that there was a threshold below which people would quit...Reducing the level of nicotine in cigarettes will change cigarette smoking as we know it. It is the ultimate harm reduction strategy."
Meanwhile, several tobacco companies have filed suit, claiming that the restrictions on advertising violate free speech rights. The case is currently in limbo in federal appeals court. A federal judge recently upheld the majority of the restrictions, but the FDA and the tobacco companies appealed parts of the ruling.