Implications of Tobacco Industry Research on Packaging Colors for Designing Health Warning Labels

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Health warning labels (HWLs) are an important way to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco products. Tobacco companies conducted research to understand how pack colors affect consumers’ perceptions of the products and make packages and their labeling more visually prominent.


We analyzed previously secret tobacco industry documents concerning the tobacco industry’s internal research on how cigarette package colors and design influence the visual prominence of packages and consumers’ perceptions of the harmfulness of the products.


The companies found that black is visually prominent, placing dark pack elements on a contrasting light background makes them stand out more, and black text on a white background is more prominent than white text on a black background. Yellow most quickly and effectively seizes and holds consumers’ attention and signals warning or danger, while white connotes health and safety. Using black text on a bright contrasting background color, particularly yellow, attracts consumers’ attention to the message.


Tobacco industry research on pack color choices that make pack elements more prominent, attract and keep consumers’ attention, and convey danger instead of health should guide governments in specifying requirements for HWLs. These factors suggest that HWLs printed on a yellow background with black lettering and borders would most effectively seize and keep consumers’ attention and signal the danger of cigarettes and other tobacco products.


Tobacco companies’ internal research on improving the prominence of pack elements suggests that HWLs using black lettering on a contrasting yellow background would most effectively seize and hold consumers’ attention and signal the danger of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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