Smoke and mirrors: this is how cigarette packs should look

Ta da, the new cigarette packets.

Rick writes: I’m a smoker. I’ll allow fifteen seconds for you all to berate me now. I’ll even berate myself because, frankly, I am an idiot who took up smoking when he was 18 despite a distinguished ‘career’ in high school of being the militant anti-smoker who hassled other kids at parties for sullying their mouths with a durry.

Now that I’ve declared my bias, let’s talk cigarettes.

Today is the day that we get our first look at proposed new cigarette packaging, packaging that will appear on every tobacco product if the Federal Government passes the laws it wants. The packaging is dull – olive green, so uncool – and the brand logo of the billion-dollar tobacco companies will be removed. The health warnings and graphic pictures will also be massively increased in size to take up the prime real estate on the boxes and tobacco bags.The cigarette type and brand name of the company will appear in a specific font, all uniform. Smokes won’t stand out. They won’t be differentiated. Australia will be the 1984 of smoke sellers.

And it might – maybe – be against the law. According to AAP:

“The government could end up wasting millions of taxpayers’ dollars in legal fees trying to defend their decision, let alone the potential to pay billions to the tobacco industry for taking away our intellectual property,” spokesman Scott McIntyre said.

Australia would be the first country to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes.”

And yet, after all this, I remain ambivalent. I’m a smoker and I smoke because I’m addicted to nicotine, not because I have a penchant for pretty colours on cigarette packaging. That ship’s sailed for me. But I don’t mind the Government trying, in case it works. It won’t affect me.

I spoke to Mamamia’s marketing director Simon about the psychology behind the plain packaging and whether it would deter anybody from taking up smoking. The answer, probably not. But it is indicative of the decline of tobacco in our society and that makes the tobacco giants nervous.

Simon explained that in days gone by, cigarette packets were an extension of a person’s personality. For example, Winnie Blues were for working class and Benson and Hedges – with that fabulous shiny gold packaging and embossed logo – were considered ‘classy’. I know, hold the laughter. Cigarette packs were back then as phones are today. Or cars. Or clothing brands. When you put them on the coffee table they signalled to all and sundry what you were all about. Outspoken, soft spoken, confident, refined.


People chose their cigarettes according to their aspirations. And the tobacco companies knew that.

Axing the logos and the uniqueness of branding in Australia’s smokers market is just another ‘injustice’ that the tobacco giants have to suffer. To play devil’s advocate for just a second, however, I wonder whether the Government might try the same with the alcohol industry? Now there’s a fun thought experiment.

It’s hard to feel sorry for the Cruelle Deville-esque corporate bigwigs who control an industry that kills. Especially when they go to such bizarre and thinly concealed lengths to make their case. Remember the ‘Alliance of Australian Retailers’ that emerged when this policy was announced during the election last year?

They all had such odd concerns. That the packaging rules wouldn’t work, so why bother? True, so why bother with a $5 million advertising campaign? And they were concerned that it would take longer to find the cigarettes. Bullshit. Take a look:

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Those are crocodile tears you see there from people who aren’t actually retailers. These ads were paid for and conceived by the tobacco industry. Apparently with the help of the opposition during the last federal election, as reported at the time:

“The attack ads over tobacco plain packaging are being fronted by a group registered only last week with the Australian Securities Commission and dubbed the Alliance of Australian Retailers.

However, the campaign was devised by former Howard government advisers and current Liberal Party strategists, and is being almost entirely financed by the tobacco industry.

Starting this weekend, full-page newspaper and television ads will accuse Labor of adding to people’s costs of living and attack their proposed laws on plain packaging for tobacco products.  That would see brand logos, images and colours removed from cigarette packs from 2012.

That’s an awful lot of fuss for something that ‘won’t work’.

So, here’s the question: are our smoking laws heading in the right direction? Would plain smoke packets influence your decision to smoke or not to smoke? Where should we go from here? A Sydney apartment block may be the first in Australia to ban residents smoking at home…should we extend it? What about personal freedoms?

Disclaimer: I know I’m stupid for smoking. It’s OK if you point it out below, but I admitted it first!