Still don’t get plain packaging

This is totally a minor point in a very torrid debate, but I’m going to bring it up anyway.  In a post on the government announcement to move forward on plain packaging, Idiot/Savant says:

Cigarette packaging has been used as a marketing mechanism to circumvent advertising bans.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume I/S isn’t a smoker.  May not live with a smoker.  May not hang out with many smokers (I can definitely say there aren’t many of them in geek circles, for a start.)

Now, if you don’t smoke, don’t know or live with smokers, haven’t ever been asked by a partner or coworker to pick up a pack for them, if you really don’t spend much of your time thinking about what cigarette packages look like … what does that sentence say to you?

How would you assume cigarette packaging “has been used as a marketing mechanism”?

Personally, I think I’d assume there are slogans on the packs.  Sexy ladies, maybe.  The pack might be like a little box-shaped billboard hawking the product’s advantages and inexpensiveness.

The reason I might not know what cigarette packs really look like might have something to do with the fact that shops cannot display them, so the usual prohibitionist argument that the packaging is SECRETLY AN ADVERTISEMENT!!!! SUBVERTING THE LAW!!!! already falls at the first hurdle.

Anyway.  Here’s a pretty standard cigarette package:


The text includes:  the type of product; the brand name in the brand font; the sub-brand name, and a note about duty tax.

I defy anyone to explain to me how this is any more an “advertisement” than, say, this box of Just Juice:


Yes, cigarettes are evil and nasty and going to kill us all, and yes, the tobacco industry is so evil that it fights any move to make its business more expensive and potentially less profitable (unlike every other industry in the word, of course).  But when we’re down to exclaiming in horror that a pack containing a brand name and a fancy logo is deliberate immoral subversion of the rule of parliamentary law?  I think we’re a little bit in la-la land.

Of course, it ties in with this kind of rhetoric (and general lack-of-reality) from the Smokefree Coalition:

“[Plain packaging] will remove the tobacco industry’s last methods of making smoking appear glamorous and sophisticated to our children.”

Because like I’ve said before, apparently cigarette packaging has magical properties which entrances the minds of innocent children – even when they can’t see it on display.  Oh wait, maybe they see the magical packaging when their parents or relatives smoke.  In which case it’s definitely the packaging which convinces them that smoking is a relaxing social activity.

Honestly, when it comes to anti-smoking and anti-binge-drinking campaigns?  I’d be so much more on board if I didn’t feel they treated me, and everyone else in society, like fucking guppies.


  1. Mr Wainscotting

    I’m of the opinion that if plain packaging will reduce the numbers of smokers in the country, then it’s a good thing, but I also hold the opinion that such government mandated rules must be based on evidence, which I don’t think is in yet.

    Also, following I/S’s logic, every commercial product should appear in plain packaging. Yes, that’s an unfair hyperbole, but treating us like guppies should only be used if it actually works, and I really don’t think it does.

    • QoT


      I also feel it’s a pointless exercise: Everything should be in plain packaging so we, the schmucks, are not fooled by Evil Marketing Tricks. But we still need to know what the differences between the products are, so the plain packaging may need to contain extra words (for cigarettes, “menthol” or “low tar” or whatever). And but it’s really annoying to the shop owners to have to find specific packs in amongst the semi-identical packs, so maybe government can concede that menthols should be allowed to be green. And then maybe someone decides to launch a super-cheap low-grade product called a Lncky Striike, which frequently gets confused with Lucky Strikes, so the government might have to concede that Lucky Strikes can add some defining feature to stop their brand being ripped off. And eventually we’re back to the beginning.

      And anyway YOU CAN’T SEE THE GODDAMN PACKAGING BECAUSE WE’VE ALREADY DEMANDED IT BE LOCKED BEHIND OPAQUE DOORS. As I’ve commented on The Standard, the only winners in this situation are the makers of branded cigarette tins.

  2. Another David

    I only smoke the occassional cigarette but really enjoy a nice tailor made one. I like the packaging as well. For some people it is the lesser of two evils when they are dealing with difficult states of mind. All the new rules are just a roundabout way of trying to ban smoking outright. Smoking a lot is definitely bad for your health but people should have the right to smoke if they want to. Putting up the price of cigarettes especially hurts those at the bottom who tend to be the smokers. And a final point, what’s the point of making us all safe from cigarette smoke when we have a government that has absolutely no interest in saving New Zealanders from global warming.

  3. Prudence Stone

    I took up smoking when I was just three. My mum and dad used to leave their packs lying around the house. So did their friends. In a family household of ten inhabitants, I was the tenth to start smoking. I absolutely adored the packs. I thought they were the most sophisticated things. The glossy finish, the neat little silver foil pullaway, the tidy lid that hinged at the top. As a little girl the pack did major marketing work upon me, but the most influential part of the design was the medium: my mother and father, leaving them wherever they liked in my environment.
    My mum smoked Pall Malls, like my grandmother. They were the first cigarettes I’d steal and smoke. My father smoked Dunhill Reds. They were gorgeous, and I would have smoked them because they were far more sexy and classy, but they were just too strong for my tiny little lungs to cope with.
    When my oldest brother began leaving his Marlboro Reds it was the same: too strong. But you know what? I persevered and smoked Marlboros, because my oldest brother was WAY cooler than my dad or my mum, and certainly my grandmother. So again, package design is a neat and covert trick in helping stupid kids -already socialised to smoke – define their identity. I am living proof.
    Once I could afford my own, there was luckily Marlboro Lights. That’s the pack you use in your article as an example. And I’ll tell you how important that example is: it is not bright red but white with a touch of gold. This was huge for me because I already knew red meant strong, but gold looked classy. I learnt that from my father’s pack of Dunhill Reds. White and Gold somehow seemed feminine compared, so it suited me to a T.
    You see how stupid kids are? How gullible to simple pack design tactics?
    And now here is something you’ll find extra interesting: I am now Executive Director of the Smokefree Coalition.
    Take care,

    • QoT

      Prudence, if your idea of a knock-down convincing argument is “I came from a family of multiple smokers, so I became a smoker, and after becoming a smoker I was influenced by the packaging” … you may be in the wrong place.