Since the introduction of the first "light" cigarettes in the early 1970s, tobacco companies have been struggling with how to package the new variants of their brands. They quickly ran into a dichotomy: how do you attract new smokers to your light cigarettes, but still maintain the brand identity of such recognizable trademarks as Marlboro and Winston? Specifically, the cigarettes' packaging (along with any accompanying promotional material) needed to reflect the individuality and newness of the lighter cigarettes, but still remind the consumer of their brand names.

Through trial and error, and later imitation, the tobacco companies developed a system of color-coding their cigarette packages that has become widespread for most labels in the U.S. (and some in Canada). To retain brand identity, the logos and design of the packages would remain similar for all of the "flavors" of that brand, but the dominant color of the package would change.

It's a simple scheme:

Full Flavor (Regular) - Red

Medium - Red & Gold

Light - Gold/Blue

Ultra Light - Silver/Light Blue

Mild - Blue

Menthol - Green

Menthol Light - Light Green

Non-filter - Brown/Maroon

American cigarette manufacturers seem split on the issue of Lights and Ultra Lights. Most (including Marlboro, Winston and Doral) use the gold/silver scheme, while others (Basic, GPC) use the blues. Some brands mix the two; Monarch uses a gold/light blue combination for Lights/Ultra Lights. A rule of thumb is that brands that offer a "Mild" cigarette usually use gold for Light and blue for the Milds.

There are two ways in which this color scheme is utilized. Many brands have white packages, and the major secondary color changes. Brands that use this formula include Marlboro, Winston, GPC, Vantage, Basic and Monarch. Other brands like Doral and Pall Mall change the background color on the package, giving their cigarette displays a rainbow effect. For brands that are strictly mentholated, such as Salem and Kool, the predominant color is green, with a stripe indicating the "lightness." For instance, Salem Ultra Lights have a green package with a silver stripe running the width of the package.

What would a rule be without exceptions? Some brands choose independence from this scheme, most noticably Camel. Granted, Camel's line offers a wide variety of "exotic" tobacco blends (Turkish Golds, Kamels) and cigarette styles (Wides) that don't fit well into the color scheme. Perhaps RJ Reynolds is promoting adult literacy, because a Camel smoker needs to read the package to make sure he/she's getting the right flavor.

In Canada, this scheme is not as ubiquitous. Out of the three most popular brands -- du Maurier, Player's and Export 'A' -- only the latter uses a format of the color-coding scheme. Export's scheme substitutes their traditional green package for red for their Full Flavor package, uses silver for Extra Lights and a Light Blue and White package for their Ultra Lights. The other two major labels have their own system, whereby they start with a base color for their strongest cigarette (red for du Maurier and light blue for Player's) then slowly add more and more white and silver to the package for each successive step of "lightness." Of the minor Canadian brands, Craven 'A' uses the American color-coding scheme.

In my experience, I have yet to see any major package design modifications made for king size, 100s or 120s, aside from the size printed plainly on the package.

My limited research has shown me that this scheme is not in use with most local brands outside of North America. I would appreciate any help with expanding the scope of this write-up, especially to include Mexican cigarettes.

eSmokes - -