Product packaging has long been used by the tobacco industry to target consumers and manipulate product perceptions. This study examines the extent to which cigarillo packaging influences perceptions of product flavor, taste, smell, and appeal.
A web-based experiment was conducted among young adults. Participants viewed three randomly selected cigarillo packs, varying on pack flavor descriptor, color, type, branding, and warning-totaling 180 pack images. Mixed-effects models were used to estimate the effect of pack elements on product perceptions.
A total of 2,664 current, ever, and never little cigar and cigarillo users participated. Cigarillo packs with a flavor descriptor were perceived as having a more favorable taste (β = 0.21, p < .001) and smell (β = 0.14, p < .001) compared to packs with no flavor descriptor. Compared to packs with no color, pink and purple packs were more likely to be perceived as containing a flavor (β = 0.11, p < .001), and were rated more favorably on taste (β = 0.17, p < .001), smell (β = 0.15, p < .001), and appeal (β = 0.16, p < .001). While warnings on packs decreased favorable perceptions of product taste (pictorial: β = -0.07, p = .03) and smell (text-only: β = -0.08, p = .01; pictorial: β = -0.09, p = .007), warnings did not moderate the effects of flavor descriptor or color.
To our knowledge, this study provides the first quantitative evidence that cigarillo packaging alters consumers' cognitive responses, and warnings on packs do not suffice to overcome the effects of product packaging. The findings support efforts at federal, state, and local levels to prohibit flavor descriptors and their associated product flavoring in non-cigarette products such as cigarillos, along with new data that supports restrictions on flavor cues and colors.