12.0 Introduction

Last updated: February 2018
Suggested citation: King, B & Purcell, K. 12.0 Introduction,The construction and labelling of Australian cigarettes  In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2018. Available from: http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-12-tobacco-products/12-0-introduction

This chapter deals with the ingredients, construction, smoke constituents and labelling of Australian cigarettes, both currently and in recent decades. Interest in how Australian cigarettes were constructed and labelled in the past is not merely historical. It is necessary to understand forces that have been acting on the Australian market over extended time periods, particularly in order to understand how changes to cigarettes may have affected the disease risks of smoking and to understand why smoker preferences have changed over time.

It has been difficult to gain accurate and detailed information about the construction and ingredients of Australian cigarettes. Before 2000, very little was known about Australian brands apart from their standard ISO tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide yields. Much of what is now known about the construction and ingredients of Australian cigarettes has come from analyses of tobacco industry documents that were made public in the early 2000s as a consequence of litigation in the United States in the 1990s, which culminated in the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the major tobacco companies and the Attorneys General of most states.  Various collections of these documents have been uploaded onto the internet and are available in searchable form on a number of websites.  Many thousands of Australian industry documents are included in these collections, including some which proved very useful for understanding the distinctive contents and engineering of Australian cigarettes.1

A limited amount of information about the construction, smoke constituents and ingredients of Australian cigarettes has also been made public as a result of a voluntary agreement on ingredients disclosure between the Australian manufacturers and the Australian Government in 2000.2 This information has also been analysed to better understand how Australian cigarettes differ from those in other countries and how this might affect Australian smokers’ disease risks.3   However, with the advent of disclosure legislation derived from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control now potentially regulating the contents of cigarettes in many countries and requirements for the tobacco industry to disclose information on contents and emissions, the evidence base in this area may strengthen considerably in future.

Between the 1960s and the mid-1990s, the key issue in relation to the construction and labelling of Australian cigarettes was the  development of ‘low tar’ cigarettes (also frequently referred to as ‘light’ or ‘mild’ cigarettes) by the tobacco industry.1,4 During this period, Australian public health authorities erroneously believed that ‘low tar’ cigarettes  provide relative health benefits to those smokers who were unwilling or unable to quit.4  However, as evidence mounted that ‘low tar’ cigarettes do not provide any meaningful reduction in smokers’ exposures to harmful smoke constituents5, Australian public health authorities began moving  to develop new policies which took this evidence into account. There is now a strong scientific  consensus   that ‘low tar’ cigarettes do not deliver less nicotine or specific harmful smoke constituents to smokers under actual smoking conditions, are no less addictive and that there is no evidence of reduced disease or mortality rates among smokers who switched to them.45

Since mid-2005, the terms ‘light’, ‘mild’ and ‘low tar’ have been prohibited as descriptors in the variety names of Australian cigarette brands and, since March 2006, tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide figures no longer appear on the side of packs. However, one set of misleading terms such as ‘light’, ‘mild’ and ‘low tar’ was replaced  including ‘smooth ‘and fine’ conveying similar messages to smokers.6 The use of these new terms, together with increased use of colour coding, enabled the industry to continue to  create the impression that some cigarettes are less harmful than others. h This issue was a significant driver for the Australian Government to introduce the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 and Regulations. Under this legislation all tobacco products sold in Australia since the 1st of December 2012 must be in plain packaging and also labelled with expanded health warnings. However, the Australian industry has continued to use ‘smooth’ and ‘fine’ descriptors for those cigarettes which are engineered to produce weaker tasting and less harsh and irritating smoke. Many Australian smokers continue to believe that they can moderate their health risks by smoking cigarettes with these sensory characteristics. 

The Partial Guidelines for the Implementation of Articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC state that “Tobacco product regulation has the potential to contribute to reducing tobacco attributable disease and premature death by reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products, reducing their addictiveness (or dependence liability) or reducing their overall toxicity.”

As of 2017, the  most progress has been made in regard to measures to reduce the attractiveness or palatability of tobacco products, with  Brazil and Canada  prohibiting the use of additives in cigarette tobacco. These measures are described in more detail in section 12.7 and 12.8. There has also been progress in identifying and measuring the harmful constituents in tobacco smoke and this is described in more detail in section 12.9.

Australia currently has very limited regulatory controls in the area of the construction and ingredients of cigarettes, with only regulatory standards for reduced ignition propensity cigarettes and state-wide bans on the sale of fruit flavoured or confectionary flavoured cigarettes which are now uniform across all states and territories. Otherwise, there is a voluntary agreement between the Australian cigarette manufacturers and the Federal Department of Health that has involved annual voluntary disclosures of cigarette ingredients since 2001 and a once-off voluntary disclosure of the mainstream and sidestream smoke emissions of the 21 most popular brands at the time.

As evidence increases, a picture is emerging of the extent to which the tobacco industry has manipulated cigarette design, packaging and labelling to recruit new smokers and retain current smokers. In response, there is increasing recognition among tobacco control organisations, advocates and policy makers of the strategic importance of regulating of the contents and emissions of tobacco products as a mechanism to reduce tobacco related harm.


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1. King B and Borland R. The 'low tar' strategy and the changing construction of Australian cigarettes. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2004; 6(1):85–94. Available from: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all?content=10.1080/14622200310001656907

2. Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing. Voluntary agreement for the disclosure of the ingredients of cigarettes. 16 June 2004: Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, 2000. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-ingred-vol.

3. King B, Borland R, and Fowles J. Mainstream smoke emissions of Australian and Canadian cigarettes. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2007; 9(8):835–44. Available from: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all?content=10.1080/14622200701485109

4. King W, Carter SM, Borland R, Chapman S, and Gray N. The Australian tar derby: the origins and fate of a low tar harm reduction programme. Tobacco Control, 2003; 12(suppl. 3):iii61–iii70. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/suppl_3/iii61

5. US Department of Health and Human Services. Risks associated smoking cigarettes with low machine-measured yields of tar and nicotine. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph, No 13.Bethesda, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health 2001. Available from: http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/tcrb/monographs/13/ .

6. King B and Borland R. What was 'light' and 'mild' is now 'smooth' and 'fine': new labelling of Australian cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 2005; 14(3):214–5. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/14/3/214