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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."

Package differences

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.

Color changes

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."

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Preparing to Quit

Everyone who successfully quits smoking starts by making a commitment to do so, then devises a plan. Here are several strategies to help you get ready to quit for good:

  • Write down and frequently read your reasons for giving up smoking. If previous attempts to quit have failed, review the problems you encountered and think about ways to overcome them.

  • Line up a team of people you can turn to. Find a friend or family member who also wants to quit. Tell people you're quitting and ask for their support. Prepare to cope with withdrawal.

  • Set a target date for quitting. Consider the day carefully and select one on which you won't be stressed by other events. Mark the day on your calendars at home and at work and tell it to your family and friends. Don't change it for any reason.

  • Begin to condition yourself physically a few weeks before your quit date. Start a regular exercise program; drink more fluids; get plenty of sleep; and improve your diet by reducing your fat and sugar consumption and eating more fruits and vegetables.

  • Make smoking inconvenient until your quit date. Buy cigarettes only by the pack, not the carton—and don't buy a new pack until you finish the one you have. Stop carrying cigarettes with you. Dispose of your ashtrays at home.

  • Find alternative ways to relax. Learn one or two stress-reduction techniques before you quit.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Lung Association - Stop Smoking

CDC – Quit Smoking

FDA – Proposed Cigarette Product Warning Labels