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New labels, law to reveal tobacco danger

MANATEE — A federal law that regulates the way tobacco companies label and market their products will give consumers a better understanding about a potential threat to their well-being, Manatee County health officials say.

Several provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act went into effect Tuesday. The biggest change is that cigarette brands may no longer use the words “light,” “mild” or “low-tar” on their labels.

Megan Jourdan, Manatee County Health Department tobacco prevention specialist, said the move will prevent tobacco companies from marketing an allegedly safer cigarette. The National Cancer Institute has concluded that light cigarettes provide no health benefit compared to regular cigarettes.

“The idea that there are less-harmful cigarettes is a myth,” Jourdan said. “It gives people the impression that they’re smoking a healthier product.”

That provision of the law is creating some uncertainty for consumers and vendors.

Billy Fimmen, a cashier at 7-Eleven store on 59th Street West, said tobacco companies are telling retailers to sell the remainder of their stock of lights or similarly branded products. Those cigarettes can be sold legally through July 21.

He said his store has about 10 cartons of Marlboro Lights, the top selling of all brands. Most of the rest of the brands have changed the name of their alternative products, he said.

Marlboro has introduced a Gold brand to replace lights. The name is based on the color of the lights brand box.

“That’s what I tell my customers, the cigarette’s not changing, just the label,” Fimmen said. “It’s like Dr. Pepper. They change the label all the time, but it doesn’t change the taste.”

A Centers for Disease Control report said about 443,000 people die from second-hand smoke or tobacco use each year in the United States. The report said about 17.5 percent of Florida’s population, or about 2.5 million people, smoke cigarettes. The state ranks 18th in the United States in that category.

One year ago, President Barack Obama signed a law giving the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.

Among other provisions of the law that went into effect Tuesday:

n A ban on all tobacco-brand sponsorships of sports and entertainment events.

n Prohibition of the sale of cigarettes in packs of less than 20, called “kiddie packs” because they are more affordable and appealing to children.

n Requirement that all tobacco products be placed behind the counter, out of reach of children.

Jordan also likes a provision that requires health warnings to represent 30 percent of display packaging and 20 percent of magazine advertisements for tobacco products.

“That’s really great,” she said, “because the health warning overtakes the actual ad, which is kind of reverse advertising.”

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