• 02.03.11

Can Removing Cigarette Branding Discourage Smokers?

One graphic design firm in the U.K. tries its hand at non-design in the name of public health.

Can Removing Cigarette Branding Discourage Smokers?

It goes without saying that the tobacco industry is great at branding its products. To hear anti-smoking crusaders tell it, that’s a public health problem. Now, the U.K. might adopt a policy that would ask cigarette companies to toss their sexy packaging in favor of plain-jane design. The hope: Stamp out smoking’s appeal, once and for all.


To that end, Icon magazine tapped the London graphic design firm Build to envision cigarette packs for an age of no branding. “We chose to approach the design almost from a non-design perspective,” Build writes on its blog. “Stripping out any superfluous design elements and taking it down to an ultra-?generic” feel was quite liberating.?


Ultimately, they devised three concepts, each done up in OCR-B, the generic monospace typeface you see in UPC codes, and little splashes of color, and that’s about it. One of ’em shows a laundry list of the toxic ingredients in cigarettes (above), the idea being: “Food packaging now has to list its contents by law ” why should cigarettes be any different??


Another (above) gives the box over to frightening warning labels: “Smoking these 20 Marlboro Reds will reduce your life expectancy by 3 hrs: 40 mins (11 mins per cigarette)” or “Smoking kills” repeated over and over again. The third (below) is a study in minimalism, conveying basic information in tiny type. All have QR codes that link to a government website on the health hazards of smoking and how to quit.

Everyone knows what the research says: The most effective way to dissuade young people from smoking is to convince them that it isn’t cool (usually through their friends).

And that’s where Build runs into problems. The packs do the exact thing they’re not supposed to do: They look really frickin’ cool (in a dystopian-future sort of way). So while they might discourage people’s tendency to select one brand over another, they won’t do much to discourage smoking as a whole.

Maybe the issue here is that the design’s just too good — that Build couldn’t shut off its brain long enough to make a product that actually sucks. Or maybe there’s something endemically irresistible about cigarette boxes. As one commenter wrote on Build’s blog: “I don’t know what it is, but cig­a­rette pack­ag­ing seems to look good no mat­ter what you do to it.” In which case, the U.K. might want to consider another, more drastic tack.

[Hat tip to Core77; images courtesy of Build]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.