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Chinese cigarette packaging: technology marries aesthetics & security.

Cigarette packaging is big business in China and a large percentage of it is holographic. A cursory glance at any tobacconist's display shows an astonishingly high proportion of brands using holographic accents to attract the attention of consumers

The tobacco industry in China is government controlled and there is little interest in reducing the revenue from this lucrative business. 'Smoking is harmful to your health. Quit smoking reduces health risk' is standard text in Mandarin and English on cigarette packets today but the font size is small. By contrast, the intention of holographic packaging is clearly to promote the products.

Holography = Prestige

At Holo-pack-Holo-print[R], The Holography Conference, in November 2011, Haiming Zhang of Holoart in China offered a paper concerning the state of holographic packaging in China. He mentioned that products in China are very often bought as gifts and bright, colorful, holographic packaging significantly adds to the prestige of that product in the minds of both the giver and receiver. This additional benefit to cigarette packaging was realized soon after holographic packaging was first introduced in China. Its impact has been studied carefully and the technology is now used with razor like precision to maximise sales revenues.

The use of holographic packaging as a prestige feature is exemplified by the Wuhan Cigarette Factory, which makes a luxury brand retailing at 425RMB ($66.40) per carton of 200, which makes extensive use of holography - as shown. Clearly, the intention here is to appeal to those wishing to bestow a quality gift that must look its high price.

However, China also has a flourishing cigarette counterfeiting industry. In 2009 alone Chinese tobacco monopoly administrative authorities seized 6.14 billion counterfeit cigarettes. Some tobacco manufacturers use over a dozen anti-counterfeiting measures on a single product and the opportunities for using holography in combination with printing as an anti-counterfeiting strategy have been extensively explored.

Multiple Anti-counterfeiting Features

Manufacturers apply multiple sophisticated technologies in combination on the cartons and packets of their products, including offset printing, screen printing, flexographic printing and blind embossing in order to make duplication harder for illegal producers. The cartons and packets of most high-grade cigarettes in China are printed using several sophisticated solutions in combination, including offset printing, screen printing, flexographic printing and blind embossing - all in order to make duplication harder for illegal producers. Large tobacco manufacturers such as Baisha Group, Hongta Group, Changde Cigarette Factoiy and General Group all use this approach on the cartons and packets of their cigarette products.

One of the first adopters of holographic technology was the major brand Furongwang. Most cigarette brands in China come in several formats. This particular brand comes in silver packs and black packs, further subdivided into hard and soft packs. To the western eye, the hard pack appears more expensive and sophisticated. In fact it retails at 35 RMB ($5.47) as opposed to the soft pack which retails at 55 RMB ($8.59). The difference is due to the fact that the cigarette in the hard pack contains 1.2 mg of nicotine an 12 mg of tar whereas the cigarettes in the soft pack have 1.1 mg and 10 mg, making them the healthier, sand therefore more desirable, option.

Both packs feature a circular motif embossed into gold hot stamping foil and applied onto the unit packs. It is also noteworthy that the soft pack is made entirely from paper embossed with plain diffraction foil and then over printed with dark purple ink onto which the circular hologram has been finally hot stamped.

From Imports to Domestic Production

In the early days of the Chinese use of holograms on cigarette packaging it was an important market for western producers. Informed sources indicate that the Furongwang hologram was originated and produced by a large European hologram producer, but now it is produced locally by four companies, under licence from China Tobacco Hunan Industrial Co Ltd, which owns the originations. Similarly, an attraction for OpSec when it bought Light Impressions in 2008 was the company's Asian sales, reputedly around [pounds sterling]5m annually. LI supplied hot stamping foil to a major Chinese cigarette manufacturer but today those holograms are also produced locally. This use of holographic materials for tobacco packaging has been a key driver for the growth and development of the Chinese hologram industry.

Production is mostly divided between Reflective Materials Manufactory, Wuhan Huagong, Gangdong Dongnan, all IHMA members. Hot stamping foil production rates are typically 8 million images per month and orders are placed by a specialist organization which acts as an intermediary between the tobacco companies and the foil manufacturers.

Each shipping carton of 10 individual packs displays a jumbo version, 55 mm in diameter, of the hologram which appears on the unit packs. Although the number of images called for to decorate the cartons is only 1/10 that of the unit packs, the image has more than twice the diameter and six times the area, making the volume requirements almost as large as for the unit packs.

The YunYan and Honghe cigarette brands are produced by Hongyun-honghe Tobacco (Group) Co Ltd. Hengyang Group and Hong he Group merged in 2008 forming Hongyun-Honghe Tobacco Group which is now Asia's biggest cigarette producer. It is headquartered in Kun-ming, Yunnan Province and is the world's fifth largest tobacco company with annual sales volume reaching 235 billion cigarettes. This equates to almost 12 billion unit packs a year. As with Furonwang. YunYan comes in both hard and soft packs although in this case, the nicotine and tar contents of the cigarettes are identical. Notwithstanding, it is again the soft pack retailing at 10 RMB ($1.56) that is adorned with the more impressive gold hologram which features a true-color 3D image surrounded by a frame containing microtext and dynamic, chasing colors. The hard pack retails at 20RMB ($3.13) and does not have the foil-applied holographic image, relying only on the diffractive effect of the rainbow embossing that appears where the red overprinting allows.

Holographic Teartape

Even the tear tape on cellophane outer wrapper can be subjected to holographic treatment. Septwolves brand uses a demetallised holographic stripe, slit to register, which would not look out of place in a banknote, whereas Shuanxi uses an unmetallised thread similarly slit to register. Both show text with a font size of 1mm imaged onto BOPP thread.8b. Unmetallised tear strip slit to register.

And for that ultimate feeling of luxury as you draw on your cigarette, few things enhance the allure of a guilty pleasure like a holographic filter tip. GoldenLeaf, manufactured by China Tobacco Henan Industrial Co, Ltd seduces from the outset with its understated diffractive box overprinted in matt black and gold.

Design elements such as the leaf, the Chinese characters and the Greek key running pattern gently call attention to the pack with their rainbow patterns as does the registered starburst patch beneath the arrow and the instruction 'OPEN'. After lifting the lid, a translucent wrapper protects the sticks with the brand name stamped with diffractive foil. But nothing prepares the first time user for the final experience of lifting the wrapper and being dazzled by the golden filters sparkling with holographic brilliance.

In conclusion, no one in China believe that the holographic industry has yet maximized its potential with the tobacco industry. On the contrary, the embossing processes, which are already in advance of anything yet seen in the West, continue to evolve, as does the need for more security features. There is also active competition to acquire more eye-catching design concepts and novel origination technologies to embody them.
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Title Annotation:Editorial Feature
Publication:Holography News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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