July 11, 2018

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Marketing with tobacco pack onserts: What public health can learn from tobacco

Dorie Apollonio and I recently published "Marketing with tobacco pack onserts: a qualitative analysis of tobacco industry documents" in Tobacco Control.  This paper uses previously secret internal tobacco industry documents to understand how the industry uses onserts (little booklets attached to the outside of cigarette packs) to "educate" consumers about their products.  Like many things, the industry has developed an excellent understanding about how to use onserts to communicate effectively with consumers.  Equally important, they have learned how to coummincate ineffectively  Not surprsingly, they use the ineffective approaches when pretending to communicate health information.

Regulatory agencies like the FDA and its counterparts outside the USA can learn a lot for this paper in terms of how they could require the tobacco companies to use onserts in a way to better and effectively inform consumers about the real risks of their products.

Two key points:

►Tobacco companies developed different types of onserts to achieve two goals: (1) Market new tobacco products. (2) Undercut public health messages about the risks of tobacco use.
►Health authorities should regulate the tobacco industry’s use of onserts to ensure that they present accurate health information in a way that smokers will notice.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

BACKGROUND:  Cigarette packs are a form of advertising that distributes brand information wherever smokers go. In the 21st century, tobacco companies began using onserts on cigarette packs to communicate new advertising messages to smokers.

METHODS: We reviewed tobacco industry documents dated 1926 to 2017 to identify how the tobacco industry developed and used onserts in marketing and to serve the industry's political and legal objectives.

RESULTS: Onserts added to cigarette packs became a more cost-effective way for brands to market in the year 2000. Manufacturers then began studying them, finding that new messages were appealing, while repeated messages were ignored. By 2005, tobacco companies were using onserts to effectively communicate about new tobacco products and packaging changes. They also used repeated 'corporate responsibility' messages that were, according to the industry's own research, likely to be ignored.

CONCLUSIONS: Tobacco companies have expanded on cigarette pack-based advertising. Twenty-first century onserts simultaneously seek to increase sales using materials that are novel, attractive and provide independent value, while undercutting public health messages about the risks of tobacco use using materials that repeat over time and are comparatively unattractive. Health authorities can use this industry research to mandate onserts to communicate effective health messages.

The full citation is:  Apollonio D. Glantz S.  Marketing with tobacco pack onserts: a qualitative analysis of tobacco industry documents. Tob Control. 2018 Jun 28. pii: tobaccocontrol-2018-054279. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054279. [Epub ahead of print].  It is available here.

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