Today’s the day — waving goodbye to cigarette packs as a promotional tool


All week we have been reviewing how cigarette branding influences consumers and explaining why standardised “plain” packaging is so important for public health. For more on the new regulations, see our factsheet here.[1]

Children born in Britain today will never be exposed to the brightly coloured, heavily branded packs their parents grew up with. Why does this matter? Because cigarette packs, unlike other brands such as washing powder or breakfast cereal, are a highly effective and public promotional tool. The pack is on show every time a smoker takes out a cigarette, on average more than ten times a day. To quote pack designer John Digianni, “A cigarette package is part of a smoker’s clothing, and when he saunters into a bar and plunks it down, he makes a statement about himself. When a user displays a badge product, this is witnessed by others, providing a living testimonial endorsement of the user on behalf of that brand and product.”[2]

We’ve already examined many different techniques used by the tobacco industry in their packaging — lipstick packs[3], sponsorship[4], use of bright colours[5], price-marked packaging[6] and deceptive pack sizes[7].

Today we’re looking at another way tobacco companies have used packaging to influence consumers — to explicitly undermine the health warnings on the packs. A good example is this Benson & Hedges pack which includes the following quotation right by the health warning saying, “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, & then going away and doing the exact opposite.” [8]


The Benson & Hedges slide pack featuring the GK Chesterton quote


Pack opening mechanisms under the new regulations have been standardised. There can be no variation in the way packs open or close, so the Benson & Hedges Silver Slide pack which included the quote pictured above is now forbidden. This pack design, launched in 2007 was favoured by the manufacturer because it increased the surface area of the pack, giving more space for it to use for such marketing messages. [9]

The slide packs also became talking points among groups of friends. By making something that was different from regular packaging, smokers would show each other the packs and discuss the brands. This made smokers more likely to switch brands, or at least try them.

Techniques like this are no longer available to tobacco manufacturers in the UK, protecting British consumers from the insidious influence of cigarette packaging. And the evidence from Australia, where such packs have been mandatory since 2012, is that the public display of packs by smokers has declined significantly, that quit attempts have increased and smoking prevalence declined.[10] [11] Cigarette packs which used to be an object of pride to be displayed, have become an object of shame to be kept out of sight.

How Benson & Hedges cigarettes are now packaged


References and notes