Restricting Product Packaging
Packaging of tobacco products is an integral component to the tobacco industry’s marketing scheme. According to industry documents, the tobacco industry considers even the display of the cigarette pack itself as a part of its advertising strategy, particularly in the context of “power walls.” 
Tobacco product packaging restrictions encompass a set of restrictions that help to control the appeal and accessibility of tobacco products at the point of sale. Options include:
- Implementing a minimum pack size for cigars and cigarillos (little cigars). While the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requires cigarettes to come in packs of packs of at least 20, there are no regulations on pack sizes for cigars and cigarillos. This allows companies to sell the products at extremely low prices, making them extremely appealing to price sensitive shoppers like youth. However, localities can establish a minimum pack sizes for cigars and cigarillos, which are most effective when paired with a minimum price. For example, New York City’s law requires a minimum price of $3.00 for any single cigar sold. Otherwise, little cigars must be sold in packs of at least 20 and cost at least $10.50, the same as cigarettes. In 2012, Boston implemented a cigar packaging and pricing regulation that set a minimum price for single cigars at $2.50 each and required all other cigars to be sold in packs of 4 or more. To prevent stores selling these products at a loss to attract customers, the ordinance language was later updated to require a package of two cigars to cost more than $5.00, and a package of three cigars to cost more than $7.50 and has since been adopted in at least 117 municipalities in Massachusetts. Several Minnesota cities have implemented similar policies. In Boston and in three Minnesota cities, these regulations have resulted in higher average sales prices, fewer retailers selling single cigars, and a reduction in neighborhood- race- and income-based disparities in youth access to the products.[2, 3] For more information, review the following resources. Learn more about minimum price policies here, and review the following resources:
- Changelab Solutions’ “Limiting ‘Teen Friendly’ Cigars: What Communities Can Do” and “Minimum Pack Size for Cigars Model Ordinance
- Public Health Law Center’s “Regulating Tobacco Products Based on Pack Size- Tips and Tools”
- Read more about the threat of cigars and cigarillos in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ report, “Not Your Grandfather’s Cigar.”
Case Study: Reducing Cheap Tobacco & Youth Access: New York City
As part of their “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement” legislation,” New York City implemented a minimum pack size that requires that cheap cigars and cigarillos be sold in packages of at least four, and little cigars be sold in packages of at least 20. Read more about the policies’ impacts on public health, legal considerations, and lessons learned in Reducing Cheap Tobacco & Youth Access: New York City, a case study in the Innovative Point-of-Sale Policies series from the Center for Public Health Systems Science at Washington University in St. Louis.
- Requiring plain packaging for tobacco products. While commercial speech protections would likely prevent such regulations in the US, Australia became the first nation to require plain packaging on cigarettes, which was upheld in JT International SA v. Commonwealth of Australia. In early 2015, both the United Kingdomand Ireland passed similar plain packaging laws.
- Requiring child-resistant packaging for e-liquid used in e-cigarettes and similar devices.E-cigarettes have introduced a new health risk to children: the accidental ingestion of e-cigarette liquid. Since 2011, poisoning cases related to e-cigarettes have increased tenfold, with 2,724 e-cigarette-related calls to poison control centers in 2014. As part of regulation on these products, governments may consider requiring child-proof packaging to prevent poisoning incidents. Review the following resource:
- Public Health Law Center’s “Policy Approaches to Prevent Liquid Nicotine Poisonings”
The evidence for restricting tobacco product packaging
Policies that restrict tobacco product packaging can help to counteract the tobacco industry’s efforts to attract new, current, and recently quit smokers through colorful power walls and kid-friendly packaging. Minimum pack size laws also have the added benefit of making OTPs easier to monitor for tax and trade enforcement. In Boston and in three Minnesota cities, setting minimum pack sizes in combination with minimum prices for cigars and cigarillos has resulted in higher average sales prices, fewer retailers selling single cigars, and a reduction in neighborhood- race- and income-based disparities in youth access to the products.[4,5]
Although it is too soon for data to reflect the impact on smoking rates, recent news highlighted that Australia’s plain packaging regulations, in combination with graphic warning labels, has led many smokers to perceive that tobacco tastes worse. A continuous tracking study from April 2006- May 2013 found that smokers had stronger reactions to the health warnings and found the packs less attractive following the introduction of the plan packs. A national cohort study showed increased thoughts of quitting and quit attempts among Australian adult smokers in the first year after the packaging changes. Among youth, effects have also included social denormalization in addition to quit-related responses. In addition, a 2017 Cochrane Review of the evidence found that standardized packaging may reduce smoking prevalence. For more information, review the following resources from the World Health Organization:
- Plain packaging of tobacco products: measures to decrease smoking initiation and increase cessation
- Plain packaging of tobacco products: Evidence, design and implementation
A qualitative study with a group of diverse smokers found that the color of cigarettes packs was the most salient design element. Participants described the color of packaging as representing characteristics of the product, such as taste and strength. Participants also found logos and graphics, typography, and the pack itself to be important design elements as well, catching their eye and conveying other characteristics of the product. Changes to the pack design can draw consumers’ attention or change their perception of a product. Plain packaging would limit the pack’s ability to attract consumers’ attention.
Best Practices for Getting Started
- Determine if your state preempts localities from enacting restrictions on the availability, placement or packaging of tobacco products. Preemption means that the laws at a higher level of government take precedence over the laws at a lower level of government. For more information on preemption, review the following resources: