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The World’s “Ugliest” Color Could Help People Quit Smoking

Officials hope hideous packs of cigarette packs will make would-be smokers think twice

Meet "Opaque Couché," the world's most hideous hue. (Courtesy Eclat-Graa)
smithsonian.com

What’s the most hideous color on Earth? It might sound like dinner-table conversation (or maybe not), but British officials have invested resources into the question, in hopes that the answer might help people quit smoking. As Morwenna Ferrier reports for The Guardian, the UK's survey recently found Pantone 448C to be the world’s ugliest color, and the country will now be incorporating the shade onto all cigarette packages manufactured for sale in the nation from now on.

The UK got the idea after an Australian research agency in 2012 surveyed more than 1,000 smokers between the ages of 16 and 64. The survey was part of a mission to figure out how to make cigarette packages as unappealing as possible. Then, survey respondents decided that a color called “Opaque Couché” reminded them of death and filth, reports Rachel Wells for The Brisbane Times, so Australian officials decided to use it on plain packs of cigarettes. They initially characterized the nasty hue as “olive green,” but backtracked after the Australian olive lobby objected to the name. 

Now, the UK is taking Australia’s lead. A recent change to cigarette packs has stripped all branding. Pantone 448C will be the dominant color, and brands will only be able to use a standard font in the same size and location on the pack. As Olivia Maynard reports for The Guardian, a full 60 percent of the new packs will be covered with health warnings.

The move to remove branding from packs of cigarettes is gaining steam worldwide. The World Health Organization recently called for more countries to make the switch, and research about ugly and plain cigarette packaging is rolling in. A 2013 study found that when teens and young adults smoke cigarettes from packs without any branding, they perceive them less positively than cigarettes from branded packages. And a group of studies of the Australian move to take branding off of cigarette packages found, in part, that smokers who try cigarettes from plain packs find them less appealing, satisfying, and of lower quality. But one Australian researcher claims that when branding is removed from packs of cigarettes, it just makes illegal tobacco more appealing.

While the Brits make their packages uglier, the United States may turn to another brand of hideousness instead. Recently, a new clinical trial found that when smokers see images of rotting lungs, blackened teeth and cancer patients, they are more likely to attempt to quit smoking. Though the U.S. passed legislation to include horrifying pictorial warnings on cigarette packaging back in 2009, a federal appellate court delayed implementation after manufacturers claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to back the move. As Nicholas Bakalar reports for ​The New York Times, the evidence from the new trial could push the court to move ahead with pictorial warnings.

Whether it’s ugly and nondescript or just plain scary, expect cigarettes to become even more offputting in the coming years.

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