"Their Packaging Has Always Been Like a Power": A Qualitative Study of U.S. Smokers' Perceptions of Cigarette Pack Visual Design Features to Inform Product Regulation

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Oct 17;14(10):1234. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14101234.


Cigarette packaging matters to consumer behavior. However, it is less clear which changes to packaging design would be salient for adult smokers. Such information is critically important to regulators in the United States who are charged with reviewing new tobacco products for their impact on population health. In this qualitative study, U.S. adult smokers (n = 33) participated in six telephone-based focus groups in March 2017. Separate groups were comprised of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) participants; participants with less than four years of post-secondary education; a mix of LGB and straight participants; and, the general population. All groups were purposely selected for diversity. Open thematic coding identified salient design elements used on cigarette packaging. Smokers articulated design elements' use, meaning, and links with consumer behaviors. Three themes were identified: (1) the power of color, (2) supporting color with other design elements (e.g., logos/images, typography, the pack itself), and (3) the combined product brand experience of multiple design elements. Participants linked design elements to product characteristics and to consumer behavior (e.g., purchase). As the Food and Drug Administration is charged with regulating tobacco products, these findings suggest the importance of considering the cigarette pack part of the characteristics of a product.

Keywords: United States Food and Drug Administration; marketing; product packaging; smoking; tobacco products.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Color
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Government Regulation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Product Packaging*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Smokers / psychology*
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Tobacco Products* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States
  • Young Adult