The Spinoff reviews New Zealand #57: Cigarette plain packaging

Cigarettes, once sold in brightly coloured packets that were highly appealing to children, will now be drab and mostly covered by dire warnings. The Spinoff’s smoking correspondent Alex Braae reviews the new plain packaging. 

I remember watching New Zealand play in the Benson and Hedges cricket World Series when I was a kid. In fact, the 1993/94 competition was probably the first time I had been aware of a brand name, and associating it with something I was interested in. New Zealand (as they were known then, before being renamed the Clear Black Caps) got flogged in that series. I’ve never bought a pack of Benson and Hedges in my entire life.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying, cigarette branding matters for consumer decisions. But now, with plain packaging laws in force, all tobacco will have pretty much identical branding.

Packets will be a drab, olive green, with huge and scary images of death and disease caused by smoking. Here’s an example, from a fellow Spinoff staffer with one of the new packs.

The first takeaway – my pink palm is an alarmingly similar colour to the gangrenous foot on the packet. Have I already done untold damage to my blood vessels through smoking? Is that puffy, pus-filled appendage my future? Should I quit immediately, or at least when I get to the end of the pack I’m halfway through?

Next thing to note: The words at the bottom mean a whole let less now. How exactly is this packet red? Will tobacco manufacturers continue to bother with branding colours when the reality is nobody will see them ever again?

That’s something that I find particularly intriguing, because I’m deeply attached to the red on the Pall Mall baselines I normally buy. Apart from a brief rebellion in my early 20s, when I smoked Camels and Riverstone rollies because I thought it’d make me look hard, Pall Mall Reds have always been my go-to. The other colours act as a warning. Blue packets supposedly mean that it’s a ‘light’ ciggie, which just means you’re lying to yourself about the dangers of smoking. And green means the dreadful menthols, which taste like a teaspoon of toothpaste, followed up by licking a barbecue grill.

So this aforementioned drab olive green – I gotta say I actually quite like it. It’s the same kind of colour of the pants that I wear to work most days, so it feels like a package in this colour will be camouflaged, hidden, perhaps even safer. Lurid red is like a warning light, a harbinger of sin when it comes out of the pocket, but olive green? That’s understated and classy.

And what about the warnings themselves? Given they occupy so much real estate on the package, it makes sense to review some of them too:

Look, if you haven’t quit by the time you’re hooked up to life support in a hospital bed, it probably is too late, yeah?

Smoking will make your lungs look like rotten fish fillets, wrapped up in the carcass of a cow. It’s also an appetite suppressant, so you won’t actually need to eat after repeatedly seeing this image. Win-win!

I’m just going to put this out there – it’s actually really rude of these kids to be coughing so loud. It’ll distract the driver who is just trying to concentrate and keep their eyes on the road. Can they maybe keep it down in the back seat?

Says you. I think it makes me look suave *takes drag, coughs uncontrollably*. And at least I don’t vape *continues coughing, dies*

VERDICT: Look at all this self destruction smokers are doing. I tell you what, smokers are pretty badass and plain packaging is showing that truth.

GOOD OR BAD:  Like the smooth taste of Virginia’s finest tobacco, plain packaging is very, very good.

– Alex Braae


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