Last updated April 2012
Chocolate, sugar and bubblegum sticks made to look like cigarettes and cigars have been sold for many decades, often in packaging closely resembling that of real tobacco products.1 Probably the most widely recognised Australian confectionery cigarettes were 'Fags': white sugar sticks with one tip dyed red to simulate a lit cigarette.
Having young children accustomed to playing with the cigarette-like lollies in facsimile brand packaging provides obvious benefits for tobacco manufacturers.1 Although the tobacco companies publicly distanced themselves from confectionery cigarettes from the 1960s, they have also not been quick to pursue trademark infringements by confectionary companies.1
Research from the US in the 1990s found that children who bought confectionery cigarettes were almost four times more likely to have tried real cigarettes. This effect remained significant after parental smoking status was taken into consideration. Children liked confectionery cigarettes and tended to see them as illicit or mature pleasures, and to use them as props to imitate smoking behaviour.2 More recent (2007) research3 from the US has shown that adults who had used confectionery cigarettes in childhood were about twice as likely to take up smoking as adults who did not have the lollies. Greater use of confectionery cigarettes was associated with a higher likelihood of becoming a smoker, irrespective of potential socio-demographic confounding factors.3
Confectionery cigarettes remain available in some parts of the world4 but are no longer legally sold in most states and territories in Australia. Interestingly however, the cigarette-shaped lollies sold as Fags in Australia continue to be sold but with a rebranding of the name from 'Fags' to 'Fads'.
Image of FAGS confectionary cigarettes, available until the 1990s
In the US, flavoured cigarettes have proliferated, ranging from fruity and sweet (e.g. strawberry flavoured) to spicy and cocktail- or liquor-flavoured, such as margarita or cognac.5
The role of added cigarette flavourings in fostering smoking initiation was highlighted recently in partial guidelines adopted by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Conference of the Parties in November 2010.6 Analysis of tobacco industry documents suggests that companies have used flavourings to mask the harshness of tobacco smoke and improving the palatability of tobacco products. This is particularly important for new tobacco users.6 For further discussion see Chapter 10, Section 10.7.1.
The recent proliferation of flavoured brands has been attributed to the tobacco industry's need to attract and retain young smokers in an increasingly challenging regulatory environment.7,8 Examination of tobacco industry documents reveals how tobacco companies have analysed the concomitant effect of controlling menthol levels and increasing brand sales among specific groups.9 While adult menthol users prefer stronger levels of menthol sensation, brands with milder levels of menthol are also available and these appear to be more attractive to adolescent and young adult smokers.9 Investigators conducted independent laboratory tests on menthol brands and analysed data on menthol brand use from a nationally representative US health survey. They found evidence that the industry manipulated cigarette menthol levels and introduced new menthol brands to gain market share, especially among young people. US magazine advertising expenditures for menthol brands increased substantially between 1998 and 2005, occurring in conjunction with the rapid introduction of new menthol brands in spite of the 1998 signing of the Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and US state governments.9
Studies on the popularity of mainstream flavoured brands in the US (such as those produced by the major tobacco companies RJ Reynolds and Brown & Williamson) have shown that they are used primarily by younger people,7 and that college-age non-smokers, experimenters and smokers are more likely to have positive expectancies of flavoured variants of cigarettes compared with regular cigarettes.10 This confirms what the tobacco industry has long understood: that younger novice smokers are much more likely to be attracted to novelty flavoured tobacco products than older or established smokers.8 Flavoured products may also be more appealing to certain groups of young people: for example, a 2009 study among US high school students identified higher-sensation-seeking adolescents as more susceptible to the use of flavour and associated descriptions on cigarette packaging; among this group, exposure to cigarette packaging with sweet flavour descriptors led to more favourable brand impressions than did exposure to packages with traditional descriptors.11
A small number of imported flavoured cigarettes are available in Australia, but their sales have been banned or otherwise restricted in some states and territories. See Section 5.23. Flavoured tobacco products are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 10, Section 7.1.
Packaging is a vital component of brand imagery12, especially in countries such as Australia where traditional forms of tobacco advertising are restricted13,14 (see Chapter 11, Section 11.10). The importance of colour and brand imagery in product appeal to consumers is clearly demonstrated in industry documents,15 with evidence that consumer perceptions of products and health risks associated with smoking are influenced by features such as colours and product descriptors.16 Since most smokers become addicted at an early age, it is not surprising that packaging for some brands appears to have been designed with an eye to appealing to youth.17 The tobacco industry has consistently denied that packaging influences the uptake of smoking among young people; however, industry document analyses 12 as well as public health research18 indicates otherwise. For example, in a 2009 UK study, children aged as young as 11 years reported misperceptions of health risk based on pack design and wording, with those brands considered to be less dangerous also perceived as more appealing and chosen as the preferred brand if trying smoking.18
Packaging is a highly effective form of advertising.19 Smokers and non-smokers are frequently exposed to tobacco packaging, due to the nature of the product; often packs are prominent when being used and also highly visible between use.15 Industry documents show that, through detailed market research, tobacco companies have been preoccupied with developing all aspects of packaging to be 'new', 'innovative' and 'fashionable'.13 Heavy investment in continuous pack design developments (such as innovations in pack shape, method of opening and pack material, as well as colouring and logos) are aimed at packaging appeal to particular target groups, including young people, and at reinforcing desired brand image.13 Such design changes have been associated with increasing limitations on traditional tobacco advertising.12 Research demonstrates that innovations such as new shapes and sizes of packs may heighten the attractiveness of cigarette brands, particularly to young people.15
Packaging has also been designed to particularly appeal to women.13 A recent study among young Canadian women (female smokers and non-smokers aged 18–25 years), for example, shows that female-oriented branded cigarette packaging (i.e. featuring descriptors such as 'extra slims', narrow packaging and traditional female-oriented colour schemes) were associated with more positive attributes including glamour, slimness and attractiveness, particularly among younger women. Results also demonstrated empirically a link between packaging characteristics, smoking and weight control beliefs– an important predictor of tobacco use among girls.20 Similarly, a recent US study among female smokers and non-smokers aged 18–19 years found that brands with novel package designs such as narrow packs shaped like perfume containers were perceived as less harmful than those using more conventional packaging.21
The progressive introduction of health warnings on tobacco packets in Australia and overseas has been strongly opposed by the tobacco industry on the basis that they ruin pack design and infringe trademarks.22 There is evidence that packaging design and format has been used by the industry to undermine the effectiveness of graphic health warnings and to distract attention from them.12 For example, some novel pack shapes and sizes lead to distorted warning pictures or small text size.15
Packaging has also been altered to accommodate different quantities of cigarettes, smaller packs being of particular appeal to young people because they are easier to conceal, as well as less expensive to purchase. For example, in 1985 and early 1986 Philip Morris launched its popular brands Alpine and Peter Jackson in packs of 15. Dubbed 'kiddie packs' by health advocates, the cost of small packs was around half the price of other larger pack sizes at the time. South Australian research conducted soon after their introduction showed that the smaller packets were especially popular among young teenage smokers.23 While smaller packs of cigarettes were subsequently banned, 'splittable' packs, whereby a packet of 20 cigarettes could be separated along a perforated line to make two smaller packs, similar in dimensions to an 'iPod', were launched by British American Tobacco Australia in 200624 (see Chapter 11, Section 11.10).
Legislation specifying minimum numbers of cigarettes per package and elements of pack design are intended to counter packaging that appeals in particular to young users (see Section 5.23). Health warnings on tobacco packaging are discussed in Chapter 12 Attachment A12.
1. Klein J and Clair SS. Do candy cigarettes encourage young people to smoke? British Medical Journal 2000;321:362-5. Available from: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/321/7257/362
2. Klein J, Forehand B, Oliveri J, Patterson C, Kupersmidt J and Strecher V. Candy cigarettes: do they encourage children's smoking? Pediatrics 1992;88:27-31. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1728016
3. Klein J, Thomas R and Sutter E. History of childhood candy cigarette use is associated with tobacco smoking by adults. Preventive Medicine 2007;45(1):26–30. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17532370
4. Ferriman A. Chocolate cigarettes 'recruit' children to smoking. British Medical Journal 2003;326:302b. Available from: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/326/7384/302/b
5. Connolly G. Sweet and spicy flavours: new brands for minorities and youth. Tobacco Control 2004;13:211-12. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/13/3/211
6. FCTC/COP4(10). Partial guidelines for implementation of Articles 9 and 10 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (Regulation of the contents of tobacco products and Regulation of tobacco product disclosures). Geneva: World Health Organization, 2010. Available from: http://www.who.int/fctc/guidelines/Decisions9and10.pdf
7. Lewis MJ and Wackowski O. Dealing with an innovative industry: a look at flavored cigarettes promoted by mainstream brands. American Journal of Public Health 2006;96:244-51. Available from: http://www.ajph.org/cgi/reprint/96/2/244
8. Carpenter C, Wayne G, Pauly J, Koh H and Connolly G. New cigarette brands with flavors that appeal to youth: tobacco marketing strategies. Health Affairs 2005;24:1601-10. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16284034
9. Kreslake J, Ferris W, Alpert H, Koh H and Connolly G. Tobacco industry control of menthol in cigarettes and targeting of adolescents and young adults. American Journal of Public Health 2008;98(9):1685–92. Available from: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/full/98/9/1685?view=long&pmid=18633084
10. Ashare R, Hawk LJ, Cummings K, O'Connor R, Fix B and Schmidt W. Smoking expectancies for flavored and non-flavored cigarettes among college students. Addictive Behaviors 2007;32:1252-61. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17030447
11. Manning K, Kelly K and Comello M. Flavoured cigarettes, sensation seeking, and adolescents' perceptions of cigarette brands. Tobacco Control 2009;18(6):459– 65. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/18/6/459.long
12. Moodie C and Hastings GB. Making the pack the hero, tobacco industry response to marketing restrictions in the UK: findings from a long-term audit. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction 2011;9(1):24-38. Available from: http://www.springerlink.com/content/r2116132350656k6/
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14. Scheffels J. A difference that makes a difference: young adult smokers' accounts of cigarette brands and package design. Tobacco Control 2008;17(2):118–22. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/17/2/118
15. Hammond D. Plain packaging regulations for tobacco products: the impact of standardizing the color and design of cigarette packs. Salud Pública de México 2010;52(suppl. 2):226-32. Available from: http://scielo.unam.mx/pdf/spm/v52s2/a18v52s2.pdf
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17. Wakefield M and Letcher T. My pack is cuter than your pack. Tobacco Control 2002;11:154-6. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/2/154
18. Hammond D, Dockrell M, Arnott D, Lee A and McNeill A. Cigarette pack design and perceptions of risk among UK adults and youth. The European Journal of Public Health 2009;19(6):631-7. Available from: http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/6/631.short
19. Freeman B, Chapman S and Rimmer M. The case for the plain packaging of tobacco products. Addiction 2008;103(4):580-90. Available from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/4rz0m70k#page-1
20. Doxey J and Hammond D. Deadly in pink: the impact of cigarette packaging among young women. Tobacco Control 2011;20(5):353-360. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/20/5/353.short
21. Hammond D, Doxey J, Daniel S and Bansal-Travers M. Impact of female-oriented cigarette packaging in the United States. Nicotine & Tobacco Research 2011;13(7):579. Available from: http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/content/13/7/579.short
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23. Wilson DH, Wakefield MA, Esterman A and Baker CC. 15's: they fit in everywhere--especially the school bag: a survey of purchases of packets of 15 cigarettes by 14 and 15 year olds in South Australia. Community Health Studies 1987;11(suppl.1):i16–20. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3495401
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