A Review of Cigarette Marketing in Canada - 6th Edition - Winter 2007


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The continuing saga
Deceptive Descriptors....

For a quarter century, efforts have been underway to end the deception of 'light' cigarettes. (Just to show how long the deception has gone without regulatory response, read this 1981 story in the Toronto Star about the misleading nature of tar and nicotine yields on Cigarette packages).

In November 2006, as its response to a complaint filed and pursued by the Non-Smoker's Rights Association, the federal Competition Bureau reached voluntary agreements with the major tobacco companies. The tobacco companies agreed to stop using terms like "light", "mild", "ultra light" and "ultra mild" -- but did not agree to stop making artificial or misleading distinctions between one type of cigarette and another.

By summer, most of the brands had been converted in ways that removed the offending four words, but which continued to suggest brand distinctions.  It was at this time that Health Canada published notice that it would pass a regulation that was, to all extents and purposes, the same as the voluntary agreement reached with the competition bureau.  Health groups, like the Non Smokers Rights Association (NSRA) and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada found that the government's proposed regulation "offers little or no public health benefit." (PSC submission).

During 2006, the companies have increased their use of package colours to denote differences in strength.  They have also initiated the use of marketing terms that are, in themselves, a lifestyle promotion (such as 'Prestige', 'Distinct' )

PSC proposes that government's curtail this unhealthy marketing by:

  • banning all brand extensions

  • banning deceptive cigarette designs (including 'ventilation' holes in cigarettes)

  • banning deceptive cigarette packaging (plain packaging would be the most effective way of accomplishing this)


Changing Names...

At the beginning of 2007:

At the end of 2007:

regular, light Accord, Accord Select
Avanti (du Maurier)  
Avanti Light Avanti Elite Slim
Benson and Hedges  
100s, Special, ,Ultra Light, Special Lights, Ultra Mild, Special Ultra, Light, 100s 100s, Black, Deluxe 100s, Gold, Sapphire, Silver, Sterling, Superslims, 100s,
Craven A,  Light,  Special mild,  Ultra Mild,  Special mild,  Ultra Mild Craven A, Gold, Special, Special Pearl
Cameo, Cameo Extra Mild Cameo, Cameo Frost
Canadian Classics  
Light, Extra Light Silver, White
Du Maurier  
Edition, Light, Extra Light, Ultra Light, Special Mild, Light Smooth Carbon, Avanti LIght Edition, Distinct, Premiere, Prestige, Special, Smooth Taste, Elite
Export A  
Extra Light, Mild, Light, Ultra Light Full Flavour, Extra Smooth, Rich, Smooth, Ultra Smooth. .
Menthol Light, Select Ultra Light, Select Light, Select Extra Light Menthol Smooth, Select Ultra Smooth, Special Smooth, Special Extra Smooth
Mark Ten  
Medium, Light, Full Flavour Blue, Original, Select
Select, Extra Mild, Ultra Mild, Silver, Menthol Select, Slims, Slims Menthol, Subtle,
Medallion Ultra Mild Medallion by Matinee
Number 7  
Light, Extra Mild Blue, Silver
Peter Jackson  
 Full Flavour, Light, Extra Light, Smooth, Menthol. Full Flavour, Select Flavour, Smooth Flavour, Mellow Flavour, Menthol.

Plain, Filter, Light, Extra Light, Medium, Light Smooth, Silver Player's Plain, Original, Rich, Smooth
Light, Medium, Filter, Rich, Max  
Take a look at what vantage looked like in 1999 - click here:
Vantage in 2006:


Timeline of recent events

January 1999 – Health Canada issues an official advisory, warning consumers that “light” and “mild” tobacco products “have the same potential to be debilitating and lethal as other types of tobacco.” (Consumer Warning)
May 31, 2001 - World No Tobacco Day.  Hon. Allan Rock asks tobacco companies to voluntarily remove "light" and "mild" terms from cigarette packages within 100 days, and asks the Ministerial Advisory Council on Tobacco Control to recommend actions in the event the companies do not comply.  (Health Canada press release)
8 September 2001 - 100 days pass without the cigarette companies removing misleading descriptors from their packages.
1 November 2001 – The Health Minister Allan Rock releases the findings of the Expert Panel, which advises that regulations under the Tobacco Act be passed to ban the use of the descriptors.
 (Health Canada press release)
Expert Panel Report
27 November 2001:  United States' National Cancer Institute scientific report concludes no benefit from lower tar cigarettes.  (Press release)
1 December 2001 – Notice of Intent published in Canada Gazette proposing ban on the terms “light” and “mild”. (Gazette) Deadline for public responses to notice of intent is January 15, 2002.

January  2002:  Brazil bans use of "any type of descriptor, on the packaging or in advertising material, such as: classes (s), ultra low tar, low tar, smooth, light, soft, leve, moderate tar, high or any others that could induce  consumers to an erroneous interpretation as to the tar contained in cigarettes.” (Brazilian regulation)

November 2002:  The World Health Organization Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Product Regulation recommended a ban on all misleading health and exposure claims and related packaging. (SACTOB recommendations)
December 2002:  Health Canada research shows that 2 of every 3 smokers of 'light' cigarettes switched to light based on the belief that there would be fewer health risks. (Health Canada overview of 2001 CTUMS findings)
December 10, 2002:  The European Court of Justice rejected a tobacco industry challenge to the EU directive banning the terms  'light' and 'mild', 'low-tar', etc.  (Court ruling)
December 13, 2002:  The Quebec Superior Court upheld the federal Tobacco Act against an industry claim of unconstitutionality. The law allows the federal government to regulate how cigarettes are labelled. (Justice Denis' ruling)
March 21, 2003:  Illinois judge Nicholas Byron rules in favour of a class action suit against Philip Morris for the sale of ‘light’ cigarettes (the “Price” suit).  He ordered the company to pay US$10 billion in damages and said that "the course of conduct by Philip Morris related to its fraud in this case is outrageous, both because Philip Morris' motive was evil and the acts showed a reckless disregard for the consumers' rights."
May 8, 2003:  Lawyers from the Klein Lyons firm file a class action lawsuit against Imperial Tobacco for damages associated with the deceptive trade practice of 'light' labels on cigarette packages.  (Statement of Claim)
May 20, 2003:  World Health Organization adopts text for a global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  The treaty calls for an end to all misleading descriptors, including the use of such terms as "low-tar" and "light." (WHO press release)
June 16, 2003 - Complaint filed by the Non Smokers Rights Association with federal Competition Bureau regarding the deceptive trade practice of labelling cigarettes as "light" or "mild. (NSRA Press Release)"
July 15, 2003:  Canada signs the framework Convention on Tobacco Control - but doesn't say when it will ratify the treaty, or whether it will implement the requirement to ban the terms "light" and "mild"  (Health Canada Press Release)
September 30, 2003:  "Low-tar" and similar misleading terms are banned on all cigarettes sold in the European Union.  (EU directive)
April 30, 2004:  Imperial Tobacco files its response to the Knight case filed in British Columbia, arguing that it never represented that “light” or “mild” products reduced the risk of disease and that it was the federal government that directed Imperial Tobacco toward “developing and marketing lower delivery products.”

Imperial Tobacco files a “Third Party Notice,” deflecting responsibility for liability in the Knight case to the federal Government.  If consumers were misrepresented about “light” and “mild,” cigarettes, ITL states “then the Federal Government breached the standard of care in the operation of its health programmes,” and should pay any damages awarded in this case.

August 16, 2004: Massachusetts court certifies a class action suit (“Aspinall” suit).  "We conclude that a class action is not only an appropriate method to resolve the plaintiff's allegations, but, pragmatically, the only method whereby purchasers of Marlboro Lights in Massachusetts can seek redress for the alleged deception," Justice John M. Greaney wrote in the majority opinion.
September 14, 2004:  Missouri court certifies ‘light’ class action suit against Philip Morris (“Craft” suit).  (news report)
October 14, 2004:  The Federal government replies to Imperial Tobacco’s Third Party Notice by recommending that the court throw-out the class action suit.
January 2005.  NSRA leads a motion before the Federal Court of Canada to obtain a court order to compel the Competition bureau to rule on their complaint from June 2003.
February 8, 2005.  The Knight Cigarette case is certified, becoming the first Canadian class action suit against tobacco companies to be certified.   Certification Decision (67 KB)
June 28, 2007.  Supreme Court of Canada upholds Tobacco Act, including its prohibition of promotion or packaging "likely to create an erroneous impression."
July 3, 2007.  B.C. courts dismiss the third party claim by Imperial Tobacco Canada against the federal government. (Ruling)
November 9, 2006:  The Competition Bureau accepts a voluntary agreement with 3 major tobacco companies to phase out the terms 'light' and 'mild.'  (Competition Bureau announcement)
August 4, 2007.  Health Canada proposes regulations to end the use of the terms 'light' and 'mild'.  (Draft Regulations)





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