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The Federal Trade Commission renewed its recommendation that Congress consider giving authority over cigarette testing to one of the federal government’s science-based public health agencies. In testimony presented today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Commissioner William Kovacic discussed the FTC’s responsibilities in the area of tobacco advertising generally, and specifically explained cigarette testing and the promotion of cigarettes based on machine-measured tar and nicotine yields.

According to the testimony, “One of the most challenging issues concerning cigarette advertising and promotion is the topic of today’s hearing: the advertising and promotion of cigarettes based on their tar and nicotine yields as measured by the machine-based test methodology commonly referred to in the United States as ‘the FTC Method,’ although, as discussed below, the FTC stopped testing according to this method in 1987.” The testimony states that the test method, when first approved in 1967, “was intended to produce uniform, standardized data about the tar and nicotine yields of mainstream cigarette smoke, not to replicate actual human smoking.” According to the testimony, at the time, “most public health officials believed that reducing the amount of ‘tar’ in a cigarette could reduce a smoker’s risk of lung cancer; therefore, it was thought that giving consumers uniform and standardized information about the tar and nicotine yields of cigarettes would help smokers make informed decisions about the cigarettes they smoked.” However, in the following decades, research has shown that smokers change their smoking behavior to compensate for lower rated cigarettes, taking bigger, deeper, or more frequent puffs in order to achieve the dosage of nicotine they need, affecting the amount of tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide they get from any particular cigarette. The testimony noted that “[t]he Commission has been concerned for some time that the current test method may be misleading to individual consumers who rely on the ratings it produces as indicators of the amount of tar and nicotine they actually will get from their cigarettes.”

In a July 1999 report, and again in testimony given in 2003 and today, the FTC has recommended that Congress consider giving authority over cigarette testing to one of the federal government’s science-based public health agencies. The testimony states, “Although the Commission brings a strong, market-based expertise to its scrutiny of consumer protection matters, it does not have the specialized scientific expertise needed to design and evaluate scientific test methodologies.”

Kovacic also detailed other FTC responsibilities in the area of tobacco advertising, noting that the Commission has used its authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act “to prosecute a variety of unfair and deceptive cigarette advertising practices – including claims about tar and nicotine ratings for cigarettes.” The Commission also administers the Cigarette Act and administers and enforces the Comprehensive Smokeless Tobacco Health Education Act, which govern the health warnings on packaging and the ban on broadcasting smokeless tobacco advertisements on radio and television. The Commission also publishes periodic reports on sales and various categories of advertising and marketing expenditures for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour issued a separate concurring statement, agreeing with the Commission’s recommendation that Congress consider giving authority over cigarette testing to one of the federal government's science-based public health agencies. Harbour added that “I would also recommend that steps be taken to prohibit the use of any claims based on the Cambridge Filter Method – also known as “FTC Method” – for testing tar and nicotine.”

The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click

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Jackie Dizdul
Office of Public Affairs