Smoking labels miss the intended intensity

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

12 September 2011

Graphic labels just make smoking more cool to teens

In a spirit of full disclosure, I want to preface this opinion by stating that I am a non-smoker and lost my mother years ago to lung cancer. Most of the recent turmoil over smoking labels on cigarette packaging has died down — and has certainly dropped off of the first page of the news. All of the controversy and media sound bites really got me to thinking… what is all the fuss about?

“In other words, they like to think they look grown up by taking chances, by living dangerously.”


smoking labelsLet’s take a journey down memory lane for just a bit, because most of the controversy over the graphic smoking labels is coming from the tobacco industry itself. I think I understand their perspective. Oh, not the protestations about regulating commercial packaging or first amendment rights. I’m not a lawyer and profess to have no expertise in the law. What I am is a brand strategist and I think what the tobacco companies are doing is BRILLIANT. From my perspective, it is a perfect example of slight of hand.

The tobacco companies are pretending to be furious over the smoking labels. They want us to believe that these graphic images will hurt their business. That way we will not spend any resources on actually developing a campaign to stop the adoption of tobacco among the young. We believe their protestations. To paraphrase Shakespeare “The tobacco lawyers doth protest too much, methinks.”

Stealing Share is expert at changing behavior. That also means we have deep understanding of what will not change behavior. When I look at the proposed imaging, I am looking at the later not the former. If I were a tobacco industry exec, I would love all of this diversion. As a matter of fact, I believe it might just encourage trial, usage and subsequent addiction. Why? Glad you asked.

Kids start smoking to impress their peers with their own desire to look grown up and flirt with the forbidden. In other words, they like to think they look grown up by taking chances, by living dangerously. Shoot, it would not surprise me if these images became trading cards amongst the most impressionable.

If you want to discourage tobacco use, go right to the source. Attack the very belief that early tobacco use signifies — being grown up, mature and rebellious. Instead of showing the long-term effects of tobacco use, just tell the young smoker the truth — that they simply look insecure and immature when they light up a cigarette. That everyone knows they are just an insecure baby. It is the highest emotional intensity for the age group. Take away the payoff (look how grown up I am) and isolate the habit as an example of insecurity. Watch how fast the trial drops off. We don’t need smoking labels for that. We just need to be smarter then the tobacco lobby believes we are.

See more posts in the following related categories: Advertising BAT Branding Cigarettes Lorillard RJ Reynolds RJR Smoking smoking labels tobacco brands


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