Background Tobacco companies use colour on cigarette packaging and labelling to communicate brand imagery, diminish health concerns, and as a replacement for prohibited descriptive words (‘light’ and ‘mild’) to make misleading claims about reduced risks.
Methods We analysed previously secret tobacco industry documents to identify additional ways in which cigarette companies tested and manipulated pack colours to affect consumers' perceptions of the cigarettes' flavour and strength.
Results Cigarette companies' approach to package design is based on ‘sensation transference’ in which consumers transfer sensations they derive from the packaging to the product itself. Companies manipulate consumers' perceptions of the taste and strength of cigarettes by changing the colour of the packaging. For example, even without changes to the tobacco blends, flavourings or additives, consumers perceive the taste of cigarettes in packages with red and darker colours to be fuller flavoured and stronger, and cigarettes in packs with more white and lighter colours are perceived to taste lighter and be less harmful.
Conclusions Companies use pack colours to manipulate consumers' perceptions of the taste, strength and health impacts of the cigarettes inside the packs, thereby altering their characteristics and effectively creating new products. In countries that do not require standardised packaging, regulators should consider colour equivalently to other changes in cigarette characteristics (eg, physical characteristics, ingredients, additives and flavourings) when making determinations about whether or not to permit new products on the market.
- Packaging and Labelling
- Public policy
- Tobacco industry
- Tobacco industry documents
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