Written by academics at the University of Bath, the report is drawing attention to the fact that the world’s major tobacco companies have adopted subtle marketing techniques in order to replace traditional cigarette branding, which in 2016 was banned across the UK. One of the MPs who had devised the plain packaging legislation, is urging ministers to review the measure in order to eliminate loopholes as detailed in the report.

Big tobacco found covert ways to make their products distinctive

PMI redesigned its premium Marlboro range, adding bevelled edges and a new “pro-seal” closing mechanism to packets., to make the packs look more premium.

The researchers found that ahead of the one-year “sell-through” period, tobacco companies increased the production of cigarettes in order to have more stock of the branded packs. In the meantime, the manufacturers came up with innovative ways to somehow still make their plain packets distinctive.

Philip Morris International (PMI) redesigned its premium Marlboro range, adding bevelled edges and a new “pro-seal” closing mechanism to packets, the researchers found. This made their packs “appear more premium and recognizable compared to other brands,” said the researchers.

The report added that previous studies had suggested that such differentiating features “perpetuate the perceptions that some tobacco brand variants are less harmful than others.”

“Given that the tobacco industry is attempting to circumvent standardised packaging legislation, other countries considering the policy should consider how to make regulations as comprehensive as possible to prevent the exploitation of continued marketing opportunities,” concluded the report.

The tobacco industry is always seeking ways to market its products

The report’s lead author, Dr Karen Evans-Reeves, said the tobacco industry is “engaged in activities that undermined and continue to undermine the legislation.” She added that lawmakers should keep in mind that tobacco companies will always try to find loopholes. “Major tobacco companies will always try to find a way to market their products. Based on the number of innovations we found in this study, we would encourage all governments considering implementing plain packaging legislation to consider how tobacco companies have adapted to the legislation in other countries and where possible, close any remaining loopholes.”

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