Warning labels are applied to consumer products to educate and help the user know that the item may be harmful. Graphic warning labels and other packaging regulations on tobacco products are meant to educate smokers and other tobacco users about the grave consequences of their habit, but tobacco companies frequently try to get around new strict laws in insidious ways.  While this is rational behavior in terms of selling more cigarettes and making larger profits, these behaviors fundamentally undermine the goal of the laws that create these packaging regulations. Here are three real life examples of tobacco companies’ efforts to evade or sneak around the intention of the law:

Origami Packs

These packages of Parliament XS brand cigarettes are manufactured by Philip Morris International and were meant to be sold in Bulgaria in 2017. At first glance, the package appears to comply with the European Union Tobacco Products Directive and the new laws in Bulgaria that require 65% of the front and back of a pack to be covered in a graphic photo and a health promotion message in native Bulgarian. But the tobacco company has a trick up its sleeve that completely defeats the purpose of applying a graphic health warning label in the first place: the package is designed to unfold, flip inside out, and re-fold into a box that no longer shows the ugly warning label on the outside and instead emphasizes the company branding.

Sticker Packs

A second evasive tactic tobacco companies use to hide graphic warning labels is to include large stickers in the pack that can be placed on the outside by the smoker (as seen in @IvanIGenov’s tweet). This package of Eva brand cigarettes, made for sale by national manufacturer Bulgartabac in Bulgaria, tries to evade the same law as the Parliament brand cigarettes, in a different but no less effective manner.

Selling Cigarettes in a Reusable Tin to Escape Plain Packaging Rules

During the 12-month grace period between the passage and introduction of plain-packaging rules in the UK, Philip Morris began selling 10-stick packs of Marlboro cigarettes in a reusable tin case. Notably, this effort does not save any paper or prevent any littering, because smokers needed to buy paper packs with plastic wrapping to re-fill their tin cases. What the effort really achieved was providing smokers with an attractive tin to hold their cigarettes after plain-packaging laws came into effect—a law specifically designed to make cigarettes less attractive to consumers. These Twitter users were excited by the prospect of buying this special pack, seemingly unaware of the manufacturer’s purposes.


Tobacco companies can be clever, and the marketing experts who work for tobacco companies are sometimes exceptionally talented at helping their employers to make lots of money. Every tobacco company has an enormous marketing department, and those people come to work every day trying to sell more cigarettes than they did the day before. Yet the fundamental problem with their business model is that they make money by addicting people to a product that will kill the majority of them.

Vigilance is key for the tobacco control community. When we pass laws that cause tobacco companies to sell fewer cigarettes, we must observe how companies react to these laws and anticipate how to continuously improve them to prevent tobacco companies from evading the bills and regulations. Bulgaria and the UK did the right thing to pass tough packaging regulations, and there is no doubt that their public health will improve due to their efforts, but we must learn from these instances of industry misbehavior to write even tighter packaging restrictions in the future. Moreover, we should take note that the industry fights back particularly vigorously when there is more at stake—clearly, they believe that these packaging restrictions are bad for business.

By Alex Liber