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Tobacco industry marketing adaptations to Singapore plain packaging


Background Singapore has implemented plain packaging, a measure that strips all colours, logos and branding elements from tobacco packs. In other countries, tobacco companies responded to plain packaging with a variety of marketing tactics. Our goal was to describe the tobacco industry’s marketing adaptations to Singapore plain packaging.

Methods Qualitative analysis of 378 cigarette packs sampled from Singapore retailers in March 2019, March 2020 and January 2021, 12 months prior to, 2 weeks prior to and 6 months after plain packaging phase-in, respectively. For each pack, we collected descriptive information on the brand and variant name, pack and stick dimensions, pack shape, differentiating features and distinctive scents, as well as photographic data of the pack, cigarette sticks and any distinct features. We used the March 2019 collection as our baseline dataset, and March 2020 and January 2021 collections as comparison datasets to examine changes in tobacco marketing strategies just before and after plain packaging phase-in.

Results Around Singapore’s plain packaging phase-in, tobacco companies launched variants with flavour capsules, novelty filter features and new flavours and used more descriptive variant names reflecting the variant’s colour coding or market positioning. Tobacco companies revamped some existing variants, often with Japanese marketing themes to convey a more premium product image. After plain packaging, tobacco companies used longer packs and variations in stick length, filter length and foil texture to further differentiate products.

Conclusions Following plain packaging in Singapore, tobacco companies rely increasingly on nomenclature and the cigarette stick itself to market and differentiate products.

  • packaging and labelling
  • tobacco industry
  • advertising and promotion
  • prevention

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. Our data are in the form of descriptive data and photographs of cigarette packs/sticks purchased from Singapore retailers in March 2019 and March 2020. Authors can make the descriptive data and original photographs available on reasonable request.

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