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Why do they put 20 cigarettes in a pack?

Cigarette packs commonly contain 20 cigarettes, though the number can vary from brand to brand and country to country. There are a few main reasons why 20 became the standard amount of cigarettes in a pack:

  • It allowed for an affordable unit price per pack that could be conveniently purchased by consumers.
  • The size of a 20 cigarette pack was compact and portable enough to fit in a pocket or purse.
  • Manufacturing and packaging efficiencies made a 20 pack the optimal choice for cigarette companies.

While 20 cigarettes per pack is the norm today, the number contained in packs has evolved over the decades along with changing consumer habits, regulations, manufacturing innovations, and marketing tactics.

The History of 20 Cigarettes Per Pack

In the early days of manufactured cigarettes in the late 19th century, there was no standard number of cigarettes in a pack. Packs contained anywhere from a dozen to 50 cigarettes. A 1885 newspaper ad offered Allen & Ginter cigarettes in packs of 10, 20 and 50. As cigarettes grew in popularity at the turn of the 20th century, packaging formats were experimented with.

Pocket Packs Emerge

The desire for convenient, pocket-sized cigarette packs led to the early popularity of packs containing 10 or 20 cigarettes. In 1913, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company introduced the 10-cigarette pack of Camel cigarettes, which they advertised as “the most perfect pocket smoke.” This compact size made it easy for people to carry cigarettes with them.

The 10-cigarette Camel pack was so successful that American Tobacco Company introduced their own 10-cigarette pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in 1925. For the next couple decades, the 10-cigarette pack and the 20-cigarette pack were both commonly sold formats.

The 20 Pack Becomes Standard

By the end of the 1920s, as manufacturing picked up and prices dropped, the 20-cigarette pack overtook the 10-cigarette pack in popularity and became the new standard size. There were a few key reasons for this:

  • With cigarettes more affordable, smokers bought packs more frequently. The 20-pack provided more cigarettes than the 10-pack at still an easy-to-carry size.
  • Manufacturing efficiencies made it cheaper to package 20 cigarettes than 10 cigarettes. The 20-pack required less packaging materials per cigarette.
  • The longer and slimmer 20-pack was still small enough to fit comfortably in pockets.

Cigarette companies found the 20-pack size optimized costs and sales. By the late 1930s, most brands like Camel, Lucky Strike, and Chesterfield were selling primarily 20-cigarette packs.

Pack Prices and Sizes Over the Decades

While the 20-cigarette pack format stuck, pack pricing and sizing continued to evolve in the decades that followed:

Decade Pack Price Trends Pack Size Trends
1940s Pack prices stable around $.15 to $.20 20 cigarettes dominant pack size
1950s Prices inch up slowly to $.25 to $.30 20 cigarettes still standard
1960s Prices remain stable Some brands offer packs with 22-25 cigarettes
1970s Sharp price increases to $.50 to $.75 Packs reduced to 20 cigarettes again
1980s Prices double to $1.00 to $1.50 No change to 20 cigarettes per pack
1990s Prices reach $2.00 to $3.00 Brand experiments with 14-18 cigarettes per pack
2000s Average price hits $4.00 to $5.00 20 cigarettes is norm again

While the 20-cigarette pack size stayed consistent for the most part, brands did introduce larger packs in the ‘60s and ‘70s when cigarettes were more affordable. However, as prices climbed, these larger packs were phased out. Higher prices led brands to focus on the standard 20-pack again to keep individual packs affordable.

Some brands also tested 14-18 cigarette packs in the ‘90s and 2000s as prices crossed $3.00 and $4.00 per pack, but the unfamiliar sizes didn’t overtake the standard 20-pack.

International Cigarette Pack Sizes

The 20-cigarette pack emerged as the standard size in most countries around the globe throughout the 20th century, from the United States to Europe to Asia. But pack sizes still vary across different regions:

Region Common Pack Sizes
United States 20 or 25 cigarettes
Canada 20 or 25 cigarettes
Europe 19 or 20 cigarettes
Russia 20 or 25 cigarettes
China 20 cigarettes
Japan 20 cigarettes
South Korea 20 cigarettes
Australia 20 or 25 cigarettes

While some slight variations exist between regions, the 20-cigarette pack is by far the most ubiquitous. Again, the size struck an optimal balance of portability, manufacturing efficiency, and affordability across most cigarette markets globally through the 1900s.

Some exceptions where larger packs prevail:

  • In Canada and Russia, 25-cigarette “King Size” packs are also popular.
  • In countries with lower incomes and cigarette prices like Southeast Asia and Africa, packs may contain fewer cigarettes like 16 or 18.

But the influence of major tobacco companies over the past century has made the 20-cigarette pack the norm in most every corner of the world.

Why 20 Cigarettes and Not More or Less?

So why has 20 cigarettes historically hit the sweet spot as the standard pack size worldwide? There are a few key interrelated reasons:

Manufacturing Efficiencies

Early cigarette manufacturing machines could produce cigarettes in quantities matching the 20-pack size. Packaging 20 cigarettes into a slim, portable pack required minimal materials and was easy for machines to handle. Compared to 10-cigarette packs, packaging 20 cigarettes was more efficient and cost-effective per cigarette for cigarette companies.

Portable Size

A 20-cigarette pack could easily fit into a shirt or pants pocket. The pack was compact enough to carry discreetly for a quick smoke. Even while larger “king size” packs were introduced mid-century, they didn’t overtake the 20-pack in popularity long-term. Smokers still preferred the lighter, slimmer 20-pack for portability.

Affordable Unit Price

When cigarette packs contained 10 cigarettes in the early 1900s, they were still relatively expensive purchases. At 20 cigarettes, the price per pack was more affordable as cigarettes grew mass market. The 20-pack enabled accessible pricing per cigarette, allowing people of all incomes to afford the convenient pack size.

Lasts a Day for Most Smokers

Twenty cigarettes provides a full day’s supply of cigarettes for the average smoker. A pack-a-day would require purchasing 20-cigarette packs regularly. The 20 count aligns with the pace of consumption, spurring frequent pack purchases.

Allows Flexible Pricing

With a 20-cigarette standard size, brands can more easily raise or lower prices per pack as taxes and costs fluctuate. The price per pack can be adjusted while the pack size stays consistent and familiar to smokers.

Discourages Sharing Packs

Compared to larger 40-50 packs popular in early decades, a 20-pack is meant for individual use. A 20-pack is consumed before going stale, discouraging sharing with multiple smokers. This spurs more pack purchases and sales.

Health Concerns Lead to New Packaging Rules

As health concerns around smoking rose in the 1960s and beyond, governments implemented new cigarette packaging regulations that impacted pack sizes:

  • In 1970, the U.S. banned cigarette ads on TV and radio, limiting brands’ advertising reach.
  • Health warnings were soon required on cigarette packs in the U.S. and Canada.
  • By the 2000s, many countries required graphic pictorial warnings on packs.
  • Plain, standardized packaging has now been adopted in countries like Australia.

These increasingly strict requirements around pack warnings and designs have made it harder for brands to convey image and identity. This has reinforced the status quo of the 20-cigarette pack size, as brands focus less on using pack size and design to attract smokers.

While initially shaped by marketing and efficiency factors, cigarette pack sizes are now constrained more by government regulations. However, the 20-cigarette pack endures as the standard across most global markets.

Recent Decline in Smoking Threatens 20 Pack

As smoking rates have declined in the U.S. and other developed nations in recent decades, the dominance of the 20-cigarette pack is being challenged:

  • With fewer daily smokers, large 20-cigarette packs go stale.
  • Smaller 10 or 15-cigarette “mini” packs appeal to occasional smokers.
  • Value-conscious remaining smokers prefer cheaper options like 15-packs.
  • E-cigarettes and other alternatives enable pack sizes beyond 20 cigarettes.

For committed daily smokers, the 20-pack likely remains convenient. But as smoking continues its downward trend, unique pack sizes may become more common again.

The 20-cigarette pack size emerged last century as the optimal amount for smokers when the habit was at its peak popularity. As smoking evolves into a less common habit, pack formats are adjusting to fit changing consumer needs once more.


While shaped by diverse factors over time, the 20-cigarette pack has endured as the standard pack size for the majority of cigarette brands across most global markets. The convenient 20-count aligns with manufacturing efficiencies, consumer habits, pricing strategies and regulation constraints.

But with societal shifts like declining smoking rates and the rise of alternatives like e-cigarettes, the dominance of the 20-cigarette pack may be challenged in the future. Cigarette pack sizes have evolved over decades to align with consumer demand and company interests. As these forces change, pack formats will likely continue adapting to new realities.