With England about to ban smoking in public building it seems a good time to look back at fag packet design
Once the preserve of health-obsessed Californian cranks, smoking bans have become de rigeur. The writing is on the toilet wall. Cigarettes are finished. Ireland introduced Europe's first widespread smoking ban in 2004 and, this year, the ban was extended north of the border where, incidentally, I was recently accosted for smoking outdoors and told to extinguish my cigarette because I was on supposedly private property - never mind how a publicly owned bus station is clearly not private property, I thought smoking indoors was banned for health reasons - banning it outdoors can only be seen as social engineering and punitive Puritanism.
But I digress. Scotland has followed suit and even France - sacredieu - is stubbing out. 2007 saw a ban on smoking in offices and next year will see it extended to bars and cafés. So much for the Gauloises slogan 'liberté toujours'. England, of course, goes 'smoke free' on July 1st.
Frankly I find the whole thing bizarre, to say the least. I'm not going to get into the health issues as this is not the place and because I fully support anyone who wants to quit smoking. However, I do think the broader anti-smoking mood in society does mean we are about to say farewell to some notable icons. Perhaps we should be glad but there's no question that some of these brands deserve a place in any museum dedicated to graphic design.
Last year I mused on the impending death of the ashtray as a design icon, but what about the cigarette packets themselves?
I went to a school where smoking was permitted in a designated area. I went to an art college where people casually smoked in their studio spaces. My first job was in an office where smoking was tolerated. As a result I've been exposed to tobacco packaging for many years. Here are a few of my favourites:
Kamels - never, to my knowledge, released in the UK I saw advertisements for these in American magazines while I was at art college.
Lucky Strike - a fairly recent entrant into the public consciousness, Luckies packaging is nonetheless pretty distinctive in a retro way.
Regal and Embassy with the distinctive stripes.
- famous for its witty advertising, a cigarette for people who really don't like smoking.
Gitanes - archetypal French cigarette with distinctive packaging.
Gauloises - another French classic, associated with the residence. My personal favourite.
Sobranie Black Russians - black cigarettes with a gold foil tip presented in a black and gold tray.
Sobranie Cocktails - pastel coloured cigarettes in a pastel tray. Best not whip these out of your pocket down the working men's club.
Tobacco companies shouldn't be let entirely off the hook, of course. Candy cigarettes and cigarette trading cards are just two of rather dodgy historical marketing ideas. Leo Burnett's early media event which saw supposed 'suffragettes' (actually debutantes) light up on parade was another. Let's not even mention Joe Camel.
Nevertheless, I for one wish I'd collected at least one example of all of the cigarette packet I'd ever come across. Of all the graphics we are faced with day in and day out, cigarette packet design really is one of the most artfully realised. Pure aspiration and the desire to purchase a product that we know actively harms us.
Anyway, time to quit.