The cigarettes in the royal blue package aren't Pall Mall Lights anymore. Now they're called Pall Mall Blues. Salem Lights, once sheathed in a kelly green box, are now cloaked in pastels and white, and known as Salem Gold Box.
With the new branding, and use of hues shown to evoke feelings of smoothness and health, a leading tobacco company has revealed a subtle sales strategy for an era of unprecedented federal oversight: Let the colors speak to smokers in the same way the soon-to-be-banned words "mild," "light" and "ultra-light" did.
Harvard researchers and other tobacco-control specialists see in the new monikers and lighter, brighter palettes evidence that cigarette producers are intent on subverting a new law that empowers the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco companies - including a provision that as of next June 22 will banish words that promote certain cigarettes as safer.
Tobacco-control specialists have long harbored particular contempt for "mild" and "light" cigarettes, arguing they manipulate smokers into thinking those brands are less harmful when there's no scientific evidence to support that claim.
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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, maker of the Pall Mall and Salem brands, denies attempting to bypass the law and says it is merely seeking to guide customers to their favorite brands.
But researchers said they recognize the packaging changes as a tactic the industry has rolled out in other countries with stringent tobacco rules.
Studies conducted in Canada and the United Kingdom, which both have a longer history of restricting tobacco industry marketing, found that smokers believe products labeled as "silver," "gold" or "smooth" are safer and easier to stop using than high-octane cigarettes.
"These tricks are now well-established," said Stanton Glantz, a tobacco-control specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. "The real question for the FDA is, are they going to let them get away with these shenanigans?"
FDA spokeswoman Kathleen Quinn said her agency was aware of changes being made to cigarette packaging and intends, before the labeling ban goes into effect, to "thoroughly review the use of descriptors, including the use of color."
Reynolds, the nation's second-biggest cigarette company, makes no secret of its reason for altering the packaging. Company spokesman David Howard cited both the impending federal regulation and a federal court ruling (currently on hold) that would also expunge the mild and light names.
"By using designations such as colors," Howard said, "that makes it possible for retailers and adult tobacco consumers to clearly identify the different styles moving forward."