Tobacco Packaging: Tobacco Industry Marketing

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Image 1. Selection of plain packs purchased in the UK in early 2017


The tobacco industry knows that cigarette packs are a powerful form of tobacco advertising. In 1994, Philip Morris executive Mark Hulit stated: “In the absence of any other marketing messages, our packaging – comprised of the trademark, our design, color (sic) and information – is the sole communicator of our brand essence.”1 Evidence based on consumer tracking reports and tobacco company presentations also suggest that pack innovations increase market share.2

Plain Packs

On 20 May 2016, both the European Union Tobacco Products Directive and the UK standardised packaging legislation, came into force at the same time. The EU Directive imposes pack size restrictions – cigarettes must be sold in a minimum of 20 and hand-rolling tobacco in a minimum of 30g, the Directive also mandates a minimum health warning size of 65% of the pack surface. In addition, the Directive permits member states to implement plain packaging if they do so wish. The UK did so, mandating the sale of tobacco in unbranded packs in a drab green colour (Image 1).
From May 2016 , in order to run down branded stocks and packs that do not meet the new minimum pack size requirements prior to the full implementation of both laws on 20 May 2017, tobacco companies were not permitted to manufacture any new packets.3
Also see Plain Packaging in the UK

Image 2. A tin of 10 Marlboro cigarettes purchased in Bath, UK in April 2017

Smaller Packs

In addition to pack branding, pack size is important. Research has revealed that packs of 10 appeal to children and the price conscious.4 Furthermore, tobacco companies admit that increasing the price of cigarettes reduces smoking rates, especially amongst young people.5 Therefore, by abolishing packs of 10 and increasing the minimum size of roll your own packs to 30g, the EU Tobacco Products Directive aimed to reduce the affordability of cigarettes.

Philip Morris International (PMI)

Marlboro 10 Pack Tins in UK

In April 2017, more than 6 months after the legislation came into force, consumers in Bath and Bristol were able to purchase packs of 10 Marlboro cigarettes in tins (Image 2). Packs of 20 were not sold in tins.6 To be legal, these tins would have had to been manufactured prior to May 2016. These tins allow cigarettes to be decanted into a branded packet after the implementation of the plain packaging law. In addition by only producing tins for packs of 10 cigarettes and not 20s, Philip Morris International is conceivably attempting to prolong its relationship with those 10 pack customers who smoke packs of 10 for reasons other than price.

Japan Tobacco International (JTI)

Benson & Hedges, Camel and Mayfair in Limited Edition Tins in Ireland

Similarly, in the month before the plain packaging legislation came into force in Ireland (also 20 May 2017), Japan Tobacco International (JTI) introduced limited edition tins for its 20 packs of Benson & Hedges, Camel and Mayfair brands (packets of 10 have been prohibited in Ireland since 31 May 20077). Benson & Hedges and Mayfair tins mirrored the branding of their usual cigarette packs. The tins containing Camel cigarettes were new innovations in “multi-coloured designs”. Health advocates criticised this move arguing that JTI were attempting to undermine plain packaging.8

Imperial Tobacco

Promotional Price Stickers

A whistleblower from Imperial Tobacco recently suggested that the company had strategised ways of subverting standardised packaging legislation. According to the whistleblower, Imperial Tobacco allegedly employed a separate agency called Clipper to add promotional price stickers to the packets’ cellophane wrappers. 9 However, to date no plain packs have been observed in price marked cellophane wraps.

Tobacco Tactics Resources

External Links

R. Davies, Marlboro maker accused of using branded tins to sidestep plain packaging rules, The Guardian, 19 May 2017.

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  1. M Hulit. Marketing Issues Corporate Affairs Conference 940527 – Manila, Phillip Morris Records, Bates No:2504015017-2504015042, 27 May 1994, accessed May 2017
  2. K. Kotnowski, D. Hammond. The impact of cigarette pack shape, size and opening: evidence from tobacco company documents, Addiction, 2013; 108(9), p1658-1668
  3. Draft Statutory Instrument 2015 No. The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015, 2015, accessed May 2017
  4. C Moodie, G Hastings. Tobacco Packaging as promotion, Tobacco Control, 2010; 19(2), p168-170
  5. A Boonn. Raising Cigarette Taxes Reduces Smoking, Especially Among Kids (And The Cigarette Companies Know It), Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, 18 January 2017, accessed November 2017
  6. Personal observation, April 2017
  7., 10-pack cigarettes banned from Thursday, 29 May 2007, accessed May 2017
  8. V Flynn. Branded tobacco tins ‘are a cynical wheeze to beat law’, The Times, 14 May 2017, accessed May 2017
  9. J. Doward, How tobacco firms flout UK law on plain packaging, The Observer, 9 April 2017, accessed May 2017