Background: More than 40 countries have laws prohibiting misleading information from tobacco packages, including the words 'light', 'mild' and 'low-tar'. Little is known about the extent to which other words and package designs prove misleading to consumers.
Methods: A mall-intercept study was conducted with adult smokers (n = 312) and non-smokers (n = 291) in Ontario, Canada. Participants viewed pairs of cigarette packages that differed along a single attribute and completed ratings of perceived taste, tar delivery and health risk.
Results: Respondents were significantly more likely to rate packages with the terms 'light', 'mild', 'smooth' and 'silver' as having a smoother taste, delivering less tar and lower health risk compared with 'regular' and 'full flavor' brands. Respondents also rated packages with lighter colors and a picture of a filter as significantly more likely to taste smooth, deliver less tar and lower risk. Smokers were significantly more likely than non-smokers to perceive brands as having a lower health risk, while smokers of light and mild cigarettes were significantly more likely than other smokers to perceive brands as smoother and reducing risk. Perceptions of taste were significantly associated with perceptions of tar level and risk.
Conclusion: The findings suggest that current regulations have failed to remove misleading information from tobacco packaging.