Is there a way to prove that your brand of cigarette is less harmful than the other guy’s, and say as much in your advertising messages? Actually, there was until last week. The Federal Trade Commission has yanked a test used for over 40 years that “smoked” cigarettes and determined their tar and nicotine yield. The test, the Cambridge Filter Method, has been discredited. The study was deemed useless and/or misleading, and since it was likely to either leave consumers uneducated of confused has been pulled as a valid marketing support. Commissioner Jon Leibowitz wrote, “Our action today ensures that tobacco companies may not wrap their misleading tar and nicotine ratings in a cloak of government sponsorship. Simply put, the FTC will not be a smokescreen for tobacco companies’ shameful marketing practices.”
RBR/TVBR observation: Of course, it’s been a long time since the FTC smiled on a “shameful” cigarette marketing practice on a broadcast outlet – this will mainly affect magazine publishers. And by now, most smokers are probably aware of the health risks. But watch out: If the FTC is going to the trouble to erase a 42-year-old peg for cigarette ads, it may get proactive in other areas, like, oh, we don’t know, marketing food to children. Voluntary efforts are under way to head off such government intervention, but if they are not deemed sufficient, both the FTC and FCC may jump in.