Cigarette makers are replacing words like 'light' and 'mild' with colours such as gold, silver, blue and orange. (Altria Group/Associated Press)

Smokers in Western countries continue to falsely believe that some cigarette brands may be less harmful despite bans on the words "light" and "mild" on packaging, a study finds.

For the study in Tuesday's online issue of the journal Addiction, researchers polled 8,243 current and former smokers 18 and over in Canada, the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia about their beliefs on the risks of cigarettes.

One-fifth of smokers believed incorrectly that "some cigarette brands could be less harmful" than others, David Hammond of International Tobacco Control and his co-authors found.

False beliefs were higher in the U.S. and U.K.

In more than 50 countries, cigarette manufacturers are no longer allowed to use labels such as "light" and "mild." In some cases, they've switched to "silver" and "gold" brands.

Research suggests smokers base their perceptions of risk on package colouring.

"These beliefs are associated with descriptive words and elements of package design that have yet to be prohibited, including the names of colours and long, slim cigarettes," the study's authors concluded.

The smokers in the study showed they also falsely believed that:

  • Slim cigarettes are less harmful.
  • Cigarettes with harsh taste are riskier to smoke than smooth-tasting cigarettes.
  • Filters reduce risk.
  • Nicotine is responsible for most of the cancer caused by cigarettes.

"The findings highlight the deceptive potential of 'slim' cigarette brands targeted primarily at young women," Hammond said in a release.

"The findings also support the potential benefits of plain packaging regulations that will soon take effect in Australia, under which all cigarettes will be sold in packages with the same plain colour, without graphics or logos."