Has anyone noticed the recent anti-smoking advertisements showing on television – you know, the ones that talk about how no matter what colour the pack, and no matter whether called ‘mild’, or ‘light’, or ‘low tar’, cigarettes are still toxic? Probably you have – they’ve been around quite a lot lately.

So here’s the question: how many people, do you think, realise that this is corrective advertising, required as a result of some undertakings given to the ACCC by some of the leading cigarette manufacturers in Australia? And why isn’t that part of the advertisement?

Last year, the ACCC conducted an investigation of cigarette brand-naming and packaging activities. They concluded that British American Tobacco Australia Limited, Philip Morris Limited and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited had represented that low yield cigarettes marketed and packaged as ‘light’, ‘mild’, ‘medium’, ‘ultra-light’, ‘micro’ etc and/or brands bearing numbers such as ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘4’ ‘6’, ’12’, referring to average levels of machine tested tar, nicotine and/or carbon monoxide emitted from cigarettes had certain health benefits in comparison to those marketed as regular or higher yield cigarettes. This, according to the ACCC, was misleading and likely to breach section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 in that low yield cigarettes are not necessarily less harmful to the health of a smoker.

So I’m randomly wondering a couple of things:

  1. Wouldn’t corrective advertising be more effective if it said it was corrective? I’m guessing that part of the reason there is no comment along those lines might be that the undertakings were given without any admitting by the cigarette companies that they were indeed liable under the TPA. But there’s no doubt that the advertising is pretty tame compared to most of the anti-smoking stuff, and I don’t think it actually says that the ‘light’ or ‘mild’ cigarettes are as harmful as ordinary ones – just that they are harmful.
  2. Does this suggest that any trade mark registrations for ‘light’ or ‘mild’ cigarrettes should be removed from the Trade Marks register as being contrary to law to use?
  3. Do any countries actually ban such forms of advertising naming and branding practices (eg, calling cigarrettes ‘light’ or ‘mild’, or putting them in pastel packaging, or putting ‘yield’ data on the packages)? Because what we have in Australia is quite a long way from a ban, even though it is a court-enforceable undertaking binding certain companies.

Just some thoughts.