12.3 Labelling of 'tar', nicotine and carbon monoxide yields of Australian cigarettes

On-pack labelling of tar and nicotine yields commenced in Australia in 1982 and carbon monoxide yields were included from 1989 onwards.1 The practice of labelling tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide 'average smoke contents' on all Australian cigarette packs ceased in March 2006, following a process of reviewing the evidence, where the Commonwealth determined that the practice of was misleading consumers.

Tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide figures were printed on the side of packs, as is shown in Figure 12.3.1, using one of a number of nominal yield categories (see Table 12.3.1). Between 1994 and 2006, on-pack tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide 'average smoke contents' information was mandated by Commonwealth regulations. Prior to that, there had been a number of voluntary agreements between the Australian Government and the tobacco industry on the labelling of smoke constituents, beginning in 1981.2 Between 1967 and 1994, the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria and the Commonwealth Department of Health produced 'tar tables' to provide 'smoke contents' information to smokers.1 Publication of 'tar tables' ceased after the government sold off its cigarette testing machinery and confined its role to inspection of the industry's internal yield testing programmes.1


Figure 12.3.1.jpg

Figure 12.3.1
Two Peter Jackson brand varieties before and after the ban on 'light' and 'mild' descriptors in 2005


Table 12.3.1
Prescribed nominal yield categories for labelling of cigarette packs, 1993–2006



Carbon monoxide

1mg or less

0.2mg or less

2mg or less

2mg or less

0.3mg or less

3mg or less

4mg or less

0.4mg or less

5mg or less

8mg or less

0.8mg or less

10mg or less

12mg or less

1.2 mg or less

15mg or less

16mg or less

1.5mg or less

20mg or less

Source: Section 19, Trade Practices (Consumer Product Information Standards) (Tobacco) Regulations 2004 (Cth). 29 March 1994 Statutory Rules 2004 no.264. Available from: http://scaleplus.law.gov.au/html/pastereg/3/1855/pdf/2004No264.pdf

The original intent of providing tar yield figures was twofold: firstly, to inform smokers about their likely exposures to hazardous smoke constituents and, secondly, to encourage those smokers who were unwilling or unable to quit to switch to less hazardous brands.1 Later, it was also believed that 'low tar' cigarettes would reduce smokers' exposures to nicotine, thus facilitating future quit attempts.1 However, insofar as 'low tar' cigarettes provided a compelling illusion of reduced intakes, while actually delivering comparable doses of nicotine and other harmful smoke constituents to 'full flavour' cigarettes, they were more likely to have diverted smokers from making quit attempts than to have facilitated them.

When on-pack tar and nicotine yield labelling began in 1982, there were four categories of nominal tar yields or 'tar bands': '4mg or less', '8mg or less', '12mg or less' and '16mg or less' 1. The Commonwealth planned to phase out the '16mg or less' category but the industry successfully negotiated retaining it. Further, in 1989 and 1990, the industry unilaterally added '2mg or less' and '1mg or less' tar bands. These were subsequently included in the Commonwealth regulations. Later still, the industry added a '6mg or less' tar band for some brand families.

Having the market segmented into 'tar bands' enabled the Australian tobacco industry to create a larger variety of 'light' and 'mild' varieties than has existed in any other country.3 In other countries, major brand families generally only had 'regular', 'light' and 'ultra-light' varieties. However, in Australia, nearly all major brand families were extended to fill each of the six tar bands, with a complex variety of 'mild' or 'light' descriptors used to differentiate the varieties verbally and different pack colours frequently used to differentiate them visually.3 In more recent years, extra nominal tar yield categories, including '6mg or less' and '10mg or less' were used for some brand families, presumably for the purpose of creating further product differentiation within the most popular 'middle tar' yield range.

In 2005 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) determined that 'light' and 'mild' labelling of cigarette varieties was misleading conduct and obtained undertakings from two of the three manufacturers (Philip Morris and British American Tobacco) to remove such labelling. The third manufacturer, Imperial Tobacco, was eventually persuaded to do so under threat of litigation. Also, in March 2006, tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide figures were replaced with qualitative information about harmful smoke constituents under new health warnings (see Figure 12.3.2). However, colour-coding of packs and 'smooth' and 'fine' descriptors continue to be used to identify brand family members with differing taste and harshness characteristics.4 Further, many smokers are likely to retain some memory of the nominal tar yields of their chosen brands, as for nearly a year after the ACCC's determination, the new 'smooth' and 'fine' descriptors appeared together with nominal tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide figures.


Figure 12.3.1.jpg

Figure 12.3.2
Pre-2006 nominal tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide yield labelling (top) and post-2006 qualitative smoke contents labelling 

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1. 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

2. Winstanley M, Woodward S and Walker N. Tobacco in Australia: facts and issues, 1995. 2nd edn. Carlton South: Victorian Smoking and Health Program, 1995. Available from: http://www.quit.org.au/quit/FandI/welcome.htm

3. 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

4. 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