Beyond light and mild: cigarette brand descriptors and perceptions of risk in the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey

Addiction. 2011 Jun;106(6):1166-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03402.x. Epub 2011 Apr 12.


Aims: To examine perceptions of risk related to type of cigarette brand.

Design and setting: Cross-sectional findings from wave 5 of the ITC Four Country Survey, conducted with nationally representative samples of smokers in 2006.

Participants: A total of 8243 current and former adult (≥18 years) smokers from Canada (n=2022), the United States (n=2034), the United Kingdom (n=2019) and Australia (n=2168).

Measurements: Outcomes included beliefs about the relative risks of cigarettes, including perceptions of 'own' brand. Correlates included socio-demographic, smoking-related covariates and brand characteristics.

Findings: One-fifth of smokers believed incorrectly that 'some cigarette brands could be less harmful' than others. False beliefs were higher in both the United States and United Kingdom compared to Canada and Australia. Smokers of 'light/mild', 'slim' and 100 mm/120 mm cigarettes were more likely to believe that some cigarettes could be less harmful [odds ratio (OR)=1.29, 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.12-1.48 and that their own brand might be a little less harmful (OR=2.61, 95% CI=2.01-3.41). Smokers of 'gold', 'silver', 'blue' or 'purple' brands were more likely to believe that their 'own brand might be a little less harmful' compared to smokers of 'red' or 'black' brands (OR=12.48, 95% CI=1.45-107.31).

Conclusions: Despite current prohibitions on the words 'light' and 'mild', smokers in western countries continue to falsely believe that some cigarette brands may be less harmful than others. These beliefs are associated with descriptive words and elements of package design that have yet to be prohibited, including the names of colours and long, slim cigarettes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Color
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotiana / adverse effects*
  • Nicotiana / chemistry
  • Prevalence
  • Product Labeling*
  • Semantics*
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Taste
  • Tobacco Industry
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult