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Cigarettes Move to Visual Brand Identity
By: Jeff Louis
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New branding regulations have been instituted on tobacco companies, forcing them to remove descriptors like "light," "ultra-light," and "mild" due to -- of all things -- false advertising. According to public health advocates, there's no such thing as a "light" when referring to smokes. 

The regulation, which was passed last year, goes into effect nationwide in June. If you're a smoker, start preparing yourself now.

Personal experience has taught me that cashiers -- who probably have never smoked -- tend to have difficulty when searching for a particular brand, despite the fact they're garishly labeled. I've lost my patience a couple of times as some poor store employee fumbles about and searches for a smoker's particular brand. The smoker usually steps in and points out the brand's location. I've watched these transactions occur over and over because the smoker is usually three people ahead of me when I'm in a hurry.  

In an effort to make it easier on the smoker, and hopefully all of us, tobacco companies are changing the color of their packages so discerning inhalers still will be able to opt for their favorites. Thus, while honoring the law, tobacco manufacturers have found an easier way to distinguish their products.

Critics of tobacco are crying foul over the changes, stating while technically within legal limits, the color-coded packs are just a way to skirt the rules. 

According to Gregory N. Connolly, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, tobacco companies are cheating.

“They’re circumventing the law,"  Connolly said. "They’re using color coding to perpetuate one of the biggest public health myths into the next century.”

They're doing it legally as well. Marlboro Lights (Philip Morris), the hottest selling brand, will change their name to Marlboro Gold, and Marlboro Ultra Lights will change into Marlboro Silver.

R.J. Reynolds already changed one of their offerings, converting their silver-boxed Salem Ultra Lights into Salem Silver Box. Whew. Big stretch there.

smokeyThe new regulation was enacted as a result of findings from The National Cancer Institute's studies on smoking that find absolutely no health benefit between smoking lights in comparison to other offerings. In fact, the Institute states lights may be worse for smokers due to a smoker's tendency to inhale deeper.

The color-coding option may not last long. The New York Times reported the Food and Drug Administration has "begun a federal review of the color-coding approach, a step that could conceivably lead to further actions against products designated as light."

In their efforts to save us from our own vices, the government seems to have missed a step by forcing cigarette companies to choose a single brand and run with it. That would lighten the load on everyone, forcing puffers to choose Marlboro or Marlboro Menthol, period. 

Altria spokesperson David Sylvia said the tobacco company's move to colored packs was a simple matter of product differentiation.

“Colors are really used to identify and differentiate different brand packs," he said. "We do not use colors to communicate whether one product is less harmful or more harmful than another.”

One senior executive at Altria wrote a letter to the FDA that alluded to banning colors as being unconstitutional. Old.Vs.New

The new regulations give the FDA total control of the industry, requiring that companies must prove a cigarette is safer than conventional offerings in order for it to singled out as a "light."

Congress banned some terms specifically. For instance, "low" and "mild" won't be allowed to be used in any packaging or advertising. Congress also granted the FDA the power to ban where they saw fit.

Connolly said tobacco companies have known for a least a decade that the descriptors would be banned from advertisements and packaging. Of the new color codes, he noted red and dark green as being regular, menthols are blue, lights are gold or light green, and ultra lights are silver or orange.

“The myth of safer cigarettes is perpetuated,” Connolly said. “Light cigarettes unleashed a monster.”

While I agree that tobacco companies have continually duped the public, at times blatantly, consumers continued to buy cigarettes despite evidence telling them to quit immediately. We could have run away. Instead, we invited the monster to come live with us. 

Connolly isn't going to quibble over colors; he'd rather have the FDA make the cigarettes taste like crap. Based on my own experiences, though, isn't it a well-documented fact that cigarettes already smell and taste like crap?

Tobacco companies could dip cigarettes in vomit with no discernible effect. I've seen people root around in ashtrays searching for a cigarette not burned all the way down.


   

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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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