Simple Genius: A Cigarette Box So Ugly, It Could Save Lives

What's nastier than a smoker's lung? This! Okay, not really. But it comes pretty close.

A couple of recent d-school grads have designed some of the most hideous packaging we’ve ever seen. That’s a good thing. So good, in fact, it could even save people’s lives.

Plain Cigarette Packaging, by Jennifer Noon and Sarah Shaw, late of Loughborough University in the U.K., is a design concept that turns sexy cigarette packs into disgusting, fumbly, puke-brown boxes. The idea: to discourage smoking by turning the actual act of reaching for a cigarette into a visceral reminder of smoking's effects.

The grads’ timing couldn’t be better. Australia is considering a proposal to ban tobacco companies from emblazoning their ur-cool logos and branding on cigarette boxes. New Zealand, Canada, and the U.K. have weighed similar measures (though ultimately dropped them over fears of legal recourse). From a design perspective, then, the question is: how to best defang tobacco branding? Is it enough to strip packaging bare? Or should regulators take a more drastic approach?

Is it enough to strip packaging bare? Or should regulators act more drastically?

We’ve seen packaging concepts on both ends of the spectrum. Build, a design firm in the U.K., had the idea to reduce cigarette boxes to single colors and robot-like OCR-B type. The problem, though, was that it still looked pretty cool. RISD grad Erik Askin came up with something more extreme, a diamond-shaped Rube Goldberg machine of a cigarette box aptly called Design to Annoy. But it looked cool, too, because it had "Marlboro" splayed all over the place.

Plain Cigarette Packaging takes the worst features of both concepts and uses them in all the right ways. Instead of a sturdy flip-top, it has a soft lid that weakens quickly, virtually ensuring that cigarettes fall out in your handbag. Instead of a sleek box, it’s shaped awkwardly like a triangle, so the once-simple act of pulling out a cigarette turns into a maddening ordeal. And where a razzle-dazzle logo might’ve presided, it’s got huge warning photos that appeal not to people’s fear of death, but to an arguably more powerful trait, their vanity: It shows brown teeth, yellowing fingernails, and mouths puckered with wrinkles. The box even has a raised, mold-like texture to emphasize all things gross and "to reduce the glamour appeal for young people," Noon says. And you have to reach straight into the open mouth to get a ciggie.

No idea whether something like this could work. We did a quick Google search to find out if folks had actually studied the impact of horrible packaging on smoking habits and didn’t come up with anything, maybe because no government has tried it before. But if countries, like Australia, are already researching the effects of plain design — and we assume they are — they might as well take it a step further and look into whether bad design can be used for public good.

[Images courtesy of Jennifer Noon; hat tip to Packaging of the World]

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  • Onerubbersoul

    My father used to call cigarettes 'coffin nails' when he started the age of 12. Every smoker knows smoking is dangerous and addictive. So light if you got 'em...if you can find a smoke-friendly place to smoke 'em.

  • kimberly kay devine

    This is an interesting concept, however I do think the only way it would work is to market it to the portion of the population which is making the effort to quit smoking.  I used to smoke, I purchased all typoes of things to quit smoking and I think I would have bought this, and it would have worked.

    Governments mandating will only create an economic stir with companies and people getting around it and the whole process would be an enormous waste of money.

    The only clear positive course is to market to quiting smokers.

  • Dave Foster

    And here comes a personal cigarette case revival, to take the cigarettes out of those horrible boxes and carry them in something pretty and individual instead.

  • Michael Ashton

    Australia has been printing foul images on cigarette packets for years. The USA should catch up!

  • Rod Alanis

    The key questions in my head are who's the primary target here - young, casual/social smokers looking to quit? Is this part of a larger, integrated effort?  The psychology of change is an elusive critter - particularly when it comes to smoking. Kudos to the designers for their efforts here - everything speaks.

  • Per Lind

    Just one problem here! In the book: Buyology: How Everything We Believe about Why We Buy Is Wrong Martin Lindstrom equivocally prove that these types of packaging actually increases the urge to smoke, so your conclusions are very faulty. In the book, a CLINICAL study proved the opposite than your hypothesis!!! But there is a very easy way to find out: sing your packaging up to be tested in the next eye tracking omnibus from and find out what the brain of the consumer thinks. I am sure you will all be very surprised! Perception is reality!

  • Barclay Missen

    Here's another packaging idea. Make the cigarettes out of $20 bills and charge $500.00 + taxes per box. That should encourage quitting. Love the packaging, especially the awkwardness of the form. Well done.

  • Paula Furlan

    Here in Brazil we've got a law that obligates cigarrette producers to print images of smoking consequences in the packages. We have pics of mouth cancer, necrosis, stroke and others I can't remember now. It really makes you think twice before putting that in your mouth. Unfortunately I know many smokers who don't care at all about the pics and consequences.

  • edwin hassink

    i think the idea is interesting, but we have seen that ugly images have not really scared off smokers. on top, i also believe that cigarette companies will start handing out goodies in the form of uber-cool, last-long cigarette boxes - so, you buy your fags but throw away the box and put all smokes in your uber-cool, collectible box. this will also become rather un-ecological/un-sustainable...

  • Jeri Atkin

    Looks like a very good idea to me!  You never know what will tip the scales, causing one to say "enough!". 

  • Everton T. Rodrigues

    Brazil has been using this procedure for some years, since 2008 I think. Since then, the percentage of smokers has been slightly dropping.

  • natalia radywyl

    For the last 4-5 years Australia has also used (revolting) graphic images on
    its cigarette boxes. Smoking's definitely in decline, but packaging
    hasn't been doing it alone - accompanying graphic posters and TV
    commercials have been really important, as have raising the tax on
    cigarettes (they're pretty expensive these days!),  general health
    campaigns (with a 'Quitline' to call) and prohibiting smoking inside
    venues. Interestingly, there's a really great campaign out at the moment
    which seems to have captured the interest of some smoker-friends -
    instead of focusing on the negatives (previous campaign's tagline was
    'Every cigarette is doing you damage'), it shows the positive and
    immediate effect of giving up just that first cigarette e.g. what
    happens after 20 min, then 12 hours, and  24 hours... seems to make
    quitting manageable. The tagline's not so great - 'never quit quitting',
    but the concept's excellent - even little steps are a step forward.

  • Dorota Biniecka

     I like the idea very much.  Loughborough University design students have produced some great products this year. Also worth mentioning is cadrboard hoover designed by Loughborough University student Jake Tyler which is going to be manufactured by Vax

  • Charlene Frias

    While I doubt a cigarette company would adopt the packaging, it's a fantastic idea. Get the packaging message to kids before they're influenced (ie: schools, billboards) and there might be a chance. 

  • Jamil Buie

    It is less about what's on the box. The drive for the drug with in it is going to  keep the industry alive.

  • Nathalia Villseñor

    For me, it makes a difference. In México since September 2010 has been approved include this kind of "bad design" and they say the OMS wants even more advertences like that.
    Here is an link to a article that mentions it:

    I think the young people is the most benefited of this packagings. With this designs pulls off all the glamour that young girls or boys "see" on a cigarrete.
    It could be interesting that all the countries that apply this norms show us a graphic or statistics about the benefits of making this.

    Great blog by the way!! Greetings!

  • Shane Guymon

    I don't think it will make a difference. It's already more than common knowledge that smoking is bad for you. Everyone is already familiar with ALL of the risks involved. So the kids just starting out are more interested in how "cool" it is, and they are young and tricked into thinking that, "they can quit whenever they want to."

    The older people who are already hooked still either don't care, or can't figure out how to stop.

    People aren't smoking cigarettes because the packaging is cool, nor do they continue smoking cigarette's because the packaging is smart and convenient. They smoke cigarrettes for the perceived benefits in the moment. Weather that be to reduce stress or to satisfy an appetite/addiction.

    You're wasting time and resources with this garbage. A better idea would be to raise taxes on cigarrettes to make it unaffordable. Also actually use the tax money to benefit something positive like better funding for our public school systems or putting it towards the national deficit.

  • Pavel ivanov

    I like the design of the box - it is so uncomfortable trying to carry it around in your pocket, it's genius. Though, I am sure no cigarette company would enjoy using it :)

    As for the images - when they started putting large black labels on the packets of cigarettes here in Bulgaria, saying: "Smoking can kill you" and others like that, people simply changed one of their habits (not smoking itself, though). I started to see more people using metal boxes where they unloaded the ugly package. It even looked way more slicker than waving a paper box.

    Another thing I now find more common among smokers, especially younger ones, is that they've turned towards making their own cigs - carrying around those bulky plastic bags with tobacco and small papers, and filters. Sure it looks disturbing, but they don't get to see the signs on the packages and I am sure some even find it cooler.