Marlboro Lights could be rebranded as Marlboro Gold if the European Union succeeds in banning taste descriptions on cigarette packaging.
Industry sources have indicated that Marlboro brand-owner Philip Morris International and UK distributor British American Tobacco (BAT) are considering a name change and that Gold is the most likely choice.
Other leading brands that would have to be axed or renamed in the event of a ban include Silk Cut Ultra, Camel Lights and Lambert & Butler Extra Mild.
One industry source says: “There are a lot of worried people in the tobacco industry. The light and ultra light variants are growing quickly and will soon overtake sales of full-strength brands.
“The problem companies have is how to communicate the lower tar levels. I would expect them to return to numbering brands, as in the case of Silk Cut Number One.”
Last week, European health ministers – with the exception of Germany’s – voted to increase the size of health warnings by 25 per cent before 2002 and ban the use of the words “light” and “ultra” because they suggest that some cigarettes are less detrimental to health than others.
The EU also wants to ban the manufacture of high-tar cigarettes and limit nicotine content to 1mg by January 2004. Manufacturers would not be allowed to refer to tar and nicotine levels on cigarette packaging.
BAT’s corporate and regulatory affairs director Michael Prideaux says he is not aware of any plan to rebrand Marlboro Lights – and that the company is concentrating its efforts on fighting a ban. “We are in favour of sensible regulation of cigarettes because they are a risky product, but we strenuously object to the banning of taste descriptors,” Prideaux says.
“We think we have a right, and an obligation, to communicate with our adult consumers.”