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Column: Tobacco companies spend billions on packaging for a reason

You may be convinced that attractive packaging doesn’t sway your decision to smoke – but it’s still big business, writes Dr Ross Morgan.

Image: Jessmine via Shutterstock

Dr Ross Morgan has written in response to a column published in last week, in which the author dismissed the assertion that female smokers buy tobacco products based on attractive packaging. Smokers may be addicted, he writes, but an industry that spends billions on design and packaging does so for one reason alone: because it works.

AN OPINION PIECE published in last week correctly stated that smokers continue to smoke because they want a nicotine hit – or, in other words, people continue to smoke because they are addicted. This addiction which was once denied by the tobacco industry is now known to be manipulated by them, so that it is more difficult for smokers to quit.

However, the packaging and marketing of cigarettes is a key element of their attraction to adults – and especially young people. This slick branding also develops brand identity, and brand loyalty is particularly high among cigarette smokers – men and women alike.  In 2006, the five leading tobacco companies spent a remarkable $12.49 billion on marketing in the US alone. A key element of this would have been the comprehensive marketing strategies around the different brands which are so clearly identified by their “pretty  packaging”.


Some will have noted just one element of the tobacco industry’s campaign to have the introduction of plain packaging blocked in Ireland and Europe. An article in yesterday’s Sunday Independent advised that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been warned that plans to outlaw company logos on cigarette packets is an “assault” on brand owners’ rights and would send “a troubling message” to Ireland’s trading partners.

This, of course, is the same flawed argument presented by the tobacco industry in Australia – and, after a titanic struggle in the courts, was rightly thrown out. Australia now has the compulsory plain packaging of all tobacco products enshrined in its national legislation.

Matthew Rimmer of Australian National University said recently: “The High Court of Australia’s ruling on the plain packaging of tobacco products is one of the great constitutional cases of our age. The ruling will resonate throughout the world – as other countries will undoubtedly seek to emulate Australia’s plain packaging regime.”

Product design is vital to the industry

This brave decision by the Australian High Court has sent shockwaves through the tobacco industry worldwide and in itself highlights the vital importance of the design and logos displayed on packaging, to the industry. This industry is all about profit and the legal battle in Australia was about protecting sales and profits, as it will be in Europe and in Ireland.

And we should ask the question again: why should governments take a tough line on the marketing of tobacco products, to include the introduction of plain packaging?

There are many reasons. Firstly, tobacco products kill 1 in every 2 people who uses them – no other product on the market kills if used as intended. If cigarettes were designed and put on the market today they would be banned by every government on the planet. The tobacco industry, with its vast profits and well developed connections, continues to manufacture and aggressively market this product, which kills well over 5,000 people in this country and 500,000 in the EU every year.

Any legislative or promotional action by governments, which can reduce the impact of the tobacco industry’s promotion, should have widespread support. The tobacco industry does not hesitate to use the leverage of the tax income from tobacco, when influencing governments – it rarely refers to the massive costs associated with treating the various related diseases. In Ireland this could be in the order of €1.5 billion annually.

Plain packaging across the EU

ASH Ireland met recently with Minister for Health James Reilly, who himself has taken a strong line on the tobacco and health issue. We asked the Minister to move an amendment to the EU Tobacco Products Directive, during Ireland’s EU Presidency, and have plain packaging introduced on an EU wide basis.

If the EU decides not to move on this important health initiative at this time, it must be remembered that the minister and the government can proceed independently. In the past the Irish Government introduced the workplace smoking legislation, and with this courageous initiative, led the way for governments all around the world. We can now take a vitally important leadership role on the introduction of plain packaging within the EU.

Dr Ross Morgan is a Consultant Respiratory Physician and Chairman of ASH Ireland.

Read: Column: Women aren’t being ‘tricked’ into smoking by pretty packaging

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Dr Ross Morgan

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