U.S. Cigarette Companies Fail to Warn Foreign Smokers of Dangers

Sept. 9, 1998

U.S. Cigarette Companies Fail to Warn Foreign Smokers of Dangers

Grossly Inadequate Warning Labels on American Cigarette Packs Sold in Developing Countries

WASHINGTON, D.C. — American cigarette manufacturers are failing to carry adequate warning labels on packs sold in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, revealed a report released by Public Citizen?s Health Research Group today.

“A smoker in Argentina will not see any warning on a box of American cigarettes that smoking causes emphysema or heart disease. A smoker in Kenya will be told even less. American cigarette packs in Kenya do not even warn of the harm to pregnant women, that smoking causes lung cancer, or that quitting might be beneficial. All of these are included in current U.S. warning labels,” said Dr. Peter Lurie, an author of the study, Smokescreen: Double Standards Between the U.S. and Foreign Countries in Cigarette Labeling, and a Medical Researcher with Public Citizen.

Although smoking is just as damaging to Argentines and Kenyans as it is to Americans, American tobacco manufacturers supply fewer warnings to citizens of those and other foreign countries than they offer to the American public, the study found.

The study assigned a score reflecting the content of cigarette pack labels ranging from 0 (worst) to 10 (best). The current U.S. warning received a 6, while the labels in 26 developing countries received an average of 1.6.

“American cigarette companies are practicing a lethal double standard. Non-Americans are being denied vital information available to U.S. residents,” Lurie said.

The study used an Internet listserv of tobacco activists to examine warning label requirements in 45 of the 56 countries on the listserv. While American cigarettes sold in the U.S. have to carry certain warnings by law, other countries often require only rudimentary health warnings. A Marlboro pack received from Japan, for example, displays only the following warning required by the Japanese government: “Be careful not to smoke too much, because it is harmful for your health.” Some countries don?t require any warning labels.

American companies selling overseas, like Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco, the makers of Marlboro and Camel respectively, generally provide no greater warnings than the often grossly inadequate warnings required by local law, the study found. Warning labels in developing countries are much weaker with respect to their size, content and location than warnings in developed countries.

“Cigarettes do not suddenly become less harmful when sold abroad. There can be no justification for withholding information from foreign consumers about the hazards of smoking,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group. “This failure to label cigarette packs contributes to rising death rates from smoking in developing countries.”

The U.S. sells more cigarettes abroad than domestically, and while U.S. cigarette consumption declined 4.5 percent between 1990 and 1995, it rose 8 percent in the Asia/Pacific region.

Smokescreen: Double Standards Between the U.S. and Foreign Countries in Cigarette Labeling recommends that U.S. companies operating abroad be required to adhere to the same labeling and marketing restrictions as in the U.S. Proposals that would require such consistency have been supported by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and are supported by a variety of groups including the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association. Reps. Doggett and Waxman were scheduled to appear at the news conference.

The study was a research project undertaken by University of Michigan undergraduate students Macksood Aftab and Deborah Kolben under Lurie?s supervision.

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