Machine-assessed tar yield marketing on cigarette packages from two cities in South Korea

Michael Iacobelli, Juhee Cho, Kevin Welding, Kate Smith, Joanna E. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION South Koreans continue to smoke at high rates. Tobacco manufacturers have a history of branding cigarettes with misleading descriptors including the introduction of low or ultra-low tar brand variants. The government bans traditional misleading descriptors (low, mild) but requires the presence of machine-assessed tar yields on cigarette packages. Literature suggests the presence of quantitative constituents can be misleading for smokers. We analyzed the machine-assessed tar value branding and the presence of additional branding that highlight tar levels on South Korean cigarette packs. METHODS In August 2018, we analyzed 178 unique cigarette packs purchased in Seoul and Busan, South Korea using a systematic protocol. Cigarette packs were coded for tar levels and classified as ultra-low, low, mid, and high tar. The presence of misleading descriptors and any additional branding relating to tar or potentially indicating strength were also coded. RESULTS Machine-assessed tar yields ranged from 0.1 to 8 mg. Cigarettes with a 1 mg machine-assessed tar yield accounted for 38% of all packs purchased. A majority (80%) of packs with tar values <3 mg had additional marketing present on the pack that highlighted tar yields, compared to 45% for packs with tar values 3 mg or greater. Many (85%) of the 1 mg packs and all of the 0.1 and 0.5 mg packs had additional marketing present that referenced tar levels. CONCLUSIONS These findings suggest that tobacco manufacturers are highlighting and reinforcing the tar yields of lower tar cigarettes by the deliberate use of tar level branding. These actions have the potential to mislead South Korean consumers that some cigarettes are less harmful than others. Strengthening of tobacco packaging regulations to prohibit references to tar yields on packs are needed to further protect consumers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number136421
JournalTobacco Induced Diseases
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Branding
  • Misleading descriptors
  • Packaging
  • South Korea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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