Cigarette Packaging Turns to Color, Subtle Wording to Sell
Jun. 01, 2011 - A year ago, tobacco companies were banned from using terms like light or mild on their cigarette packaging, but they've found another way to get the point across - with subtle color schemes or numbers.
Researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute examined the changes in cigarette packaging since the ban went into effect last June. The researchers found that the tobacco companies had replaced the forbidden terms with similar terms, such as gold and silver. They had also changed the color on the packaging to imply a safer product.
The CDC and other experts say, however, that research hasn't proved low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes.
"From international evidence, we know smokers who see white, silver, or light-colored packs are likely to associate them with lower harm products; blue packs with mild products; red with regular [full-flavor] products; and green with menthol," says Janet Hoek, Ph.D., at the University of Otago in New Zealand, who was not an author in the current research. "Pack colors have become quite strongly paired in smokers."
The cancer researchers conducted several studies on cigarette packaging. One study involved 190 smokers, who were shown packages of Marlboro and Peter Jackson, an Australian brand, in different colors. Except for brand name, all text was removed from the packaging.
Smokers who were concerned about tar and nicotine picked the lightest color - white or ivory packaging.
For the second study, researchers showed 200 smokers and 200 nonsmokers cigarette packages that differed in only one aspect: They were either dark blue or light blue; displayed the number 6 or 10; or included the word(s) full flavor or silver.
Nearly 90 percent of participants said they would choose the light blue package over the dark blue one if they were trying to reduce their health risks. The lighter colored package was also strongly associated with smoother taste and less tar.
About 81 percent thought a package labeled full flavor contained more tar than one with the word silver on the front, and 78 percent said they would choose the silver pack to reduce health risks.
The researchers urged that cigarettes be sold in standardized plain packs with coloring restricted much like wording.
Starting in 2012, U.S. cigarette makers may be required to cover half the packages with more graphic warning labels and vivid images of the dangers of smoking. The FDA is still mulling which labels to choose.
"Despite the graphic warning labels, which will be great progress in educating consumers about the risks of smoking," says study author Maansi Bansal-Travers Ph.D., "there is still 50 percent of the pack that can be used to mislead consumers on the relative risks of their products."