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De-branding cigarettes

So, this is interesting: an article in this weekend’s Observer suggests that the Department of Health is considering plans to force tobacco manufacturers to sell their cigarettes in plain unbranded packets.

The article is based on a DOH consultation document - the consultation ended on 8 September, and the findings are due back in about three months time (you should be able to find them on the response page of the DOH site around mid December). The document’s purpose was to work out ways to reduce the number of people smoking, to help smokers quit, and to stop kids from thinking that fags are cool, man.

Amongst its many suggestions and questions, the document asked:

“Do you believe that plain packaging of tobacco products has merit as an initiative to reduce smoking uptake by young people?”

They defined plain packaging like this:

“Plain packaging, also known as generic, standardised or homogeneous packaging, means that the attractive, promotional aspects of tobacco product packages are removed and the appearance of all tobacco packs on the market is standardised. Except for the brand name (which would be required to be written in a standard typeface, colour and size), all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics would be prohibited. The package itself would be required to be plain coloured (such as white or plain cardboard) and to display only the product content information, consumer information and health warnings required under the law.”

Which is fascinating. They’d be taking one of the most carefully branded products in the world, and de-branding it. And since they’ve already banned tobacco advertising, cancer sticks don’t really have much else left except their branding. They’d be stripping them back to just their name, taste and cost.

The document looks at the pros and cons of doing this, suggesting that on the plus side it would break the link between any old memories we might have from past advertising campaigns, but that on the down side, tobacco manufacturers might start to compete on price alone, so cigarettes would get cheaper (but they then note that they could just whack up the tax).

What’s the betting the tobacco companies are already looking at ways to make their cigarettes look totally unique in some new way - coloured cigarette papers perhaps, or coloured foils inside the packs... desperately trying to something, anything, to retain some semblance of individuality. Maybe they’d launch entirely new brands, where it was all about the name - perhaps using a really short name, or a really really long one...

Either way, it’s going to be really interesting to watch what happens. The Observer article says the DOH “received even more responses than the 55,000 it got before last year’s public smoking ban. Most respondents supported the plans, including plain packaging.” So it could happen sooner rather than later.

posted: 24 September 2008
categories: Graphics
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