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The Queen and I, by B&H

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One of the more absurd aspects of the international tobacco market is that one cigarette brand can be made by two different tobacco companies. This means that smokers of a particular cigarette brand, when travelling overseas, may buy what they think is their usual brand, only to find that the overseas version, despite outward appearances, is an entirely different product. It may be made by a company that is a competitor of the one that makes their cigarettes back home, and is likely to contain different tobacco leaf, additives, and other ingredients.

This is true of Benson & Hedges, whose predominant brand colour is gold. That the brand had a royal warrant from the head of state of the United Kingdom (and thus the head of the British Commonwealth) must have been seen by the marketing managers for B&H’s British makers, Gallaher, as a huge bonus for their advertising in the United Kingdom. Suppliers of any goods or services to the household of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II are entitled to apply for the warrant, but the household can withdraw it if the products are no longer required.

After years of worrying that visiting dignitaries from overseas would be offended if cigarettes were not available at state banquets and the like, household officials recently decided that the time had come to stop the remaining purchases and thus end the warrant.

Thus will end, after a gracious one year of notice, an old tradition that must have significantly enhanced the image of some brands of cigarettes. The warrant must surely have encouraged many a child to believe that smoking (which, ironically, played a major part in the death of the last four British kings) could not be so bad after all, if the Queen bought these things and allowed her royal coat of arms to be used on the pack.

Just how important the royal warrant has been to enhance the unenhanceable can be seen in India, the most populous commonwealth country, where the B&H brand is made and sold by BAT. If you haven’t got the warrant, why not invent a clever copy? Little different, really, than close copies of Lacoste leisurewear, or Rolex watches. Our picture shows the Indian B&H pack, complete with lookalike coat of arms, and the British version, destined soon to be a collectors’ item, or an exhibit in a public health museum in the United Kingdom.

Top row: the crests on the lid (left) and back of the Benson & Hedges pack made and sold in the United Kingdom by Gallaher are the royal coat of arms, with the caption: “By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, tobacconists, Benson & Hedges Ltd, London W1”. Bottom row: this pack, made by BAT and bought in India, carries on the front and back a different crest, closely resembling the royal coat of arms, with a caption saying: “Established 1873, Old Bond Street, London”.