Smoke signals rule in tobacco identity crisis

Shows "prevalent" cigarette smoking, admits Network Ten ... <i>Mad Men</i>.
Shows "prevalent" cigarette smoking, admits Network Ten ... Mad Men.

''IMAGINATIVE'' use of brand names and social media could become the next big marketing weapons for tobacco companies, as cigarette packs look set to be stripped of their branding, experts said.

Anti-smoking groups were also concerned that incentives for vendors to promote certain cigarette brands could increase as tobacco companies fought for their share in a declining market.

''It's impossible to exaggerate what a massive blow this is for tobacco companies because their pack is their brand identity,'' Professor Simon Chapman, a public health academic at the University of Sydney, said.

''But what they've still got is their name and I think we'll see companies really start trying to introduce compelling new brand names that in particular will appeal to a young demographic.''

Professor Chapman pointed to boutique cigarette brands such as Pink Dreams and German brand, Sex Smooth 'n Easy, as examples of brand names that could lure young smokers.

Becky Freeman, from the University of Sydney, whose research into online tobacco marketing was published in the international journal Tobacco Control, said cigarette companies would increasingly look to the ''poorly regulated'' online space to promote its products.

''Already we are seeing a lot of activity here with fan pages for cigarette brands on Facebook and product reviews on YouTube. As another avenue for marketing closes in Australia, this industry is going to look at what avenues are still open to them and invest in those areas in very creative ways.''

Tobacco companies are banned from advertising on Australian websites but there is nothing stopping them directly, or indirectly, from setting up Facebook pages that promote their brands.

A Melbourne Business School associate professor of marketing, Don O'Sullivan, said the best form of advertising left open to tobacco companies in Australia was word of mouth and people seeing others smoking, ''whether it be within their social network or on TV''.

He said tobacco companies would be ''thrilled'' with TV shows such as Mad Men and Puberty Blues, which premiered last night, and which Network Ten admitted showed ''prevalent'' cigarette smoking. ''It's great publicity,'' he said.

Last night, Quit Victoria expressed concerns tobacco companies could increase their incentives to retailers to help promote their brands.

❏ The high rollers room at Star casino will remain exempt from anti-smoking laws after an amendment to have it included in a new NSW ban was voted down in Parliament last night.

James Packer, who owns a stake in The Star through his Crown casino group, met key crossbenchers from the Christian Democrats and Shooters Party yesterday to lobby against a Labor and Greens push to scrap the smoking exemption.

A ban would have been a blow to attracting wealthy Asian high rollers to The Star.

This story Smoke signals rule in tobacco identity crisis first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.