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Tobacco research reveals the packet racket

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by Cancer Research UK | News

12 October 2009

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The tobacco industry has side stepped laws banning advertising and promotion by skilfully marketing cigarettes to reel in smokers according to a new Cancer Research UK study* today (Monday).

Between 2003 and 2005 the Tobacco Advertising and Promotions Act (TAPA) outlawed all tobacco advertising. Since then the tobacco industry has invested heavily in their packaging, with cleverly marketed new brand names, colours, sizes, shapes and materials to attract new smokers and help keep existing smokers from switching brands.

The researchers monitored retail, marketing and tobacco industry magazines to identify new packaging. Then they tracked three different categories of packaging.

  • Value based packaging is used to communicate value for money so offers larger or smaller packs at cheaper prices.
  • Image based packaging uses new pictures, colours and designs that appeals to target groups. Floral patterns, images such as racing cars, holograms, silver and gold colours have all been introduced to packs since the ban.
  • Innovation based packaging involves the pack itself being changed, with new packs switching from cardboard to metal, having side openings, or being hexagonal shaped.

The researchers cite the introduction of picture warnings on packs as an example of where they believe pack design has been altered to undermine the anti tobacco images.

In the four months after the graphic pictures were added the tobacco industry went into overdrive adding more new distracting images to packs during that period than for the previous four years.

These measures are all designed to make tobacco appear glamorous and desirable despite more than 114,000 people in the UK dying each year from smoking-related diseases including cancers.

Professor Gerard Hastings, lead researcher based at the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling, said: “Tobacco packaging is no longer the ‘silent salesman’ it once was, now it shouts loudly. These screams for attention are used to defy advertising bans and drown out health warnings. The industry will fight tenaciously but the only consistent and effective policy response is generic packaging.

“Contrary to the public pronouncements of the tobacco industry, the pack is an important promotional tool that is being used more aggressively and effectively as other channels are removed and health warnings are strengthened.”

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “Marketing tobacco hasn’t stopped simply because we don’t see cigarettes advertised in our magazines and on billboards or TV. The tobacco industry has simply adapted its marketing skills to attract customers with packaging.

“The advertising ban was bought in to protect children from tobacco promotion. The slick designs and attractive branding used to promote tobacco should no longer be allowed in the UK. The harsh reality is that half of all long term smokers will die from this deadly addiction. We urge the government to close the loophole and enforce plain packaging for all tobacco products.”

For media enquiries please call the Cancer Research UK London office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours’ duty press officer on 07050 264059.

Crawford Moodie, PhD; Gerard B Hastings, PhD, Making the pack the hero, tobacco industry response to marketing restrictions in the UK: Findings from a long-term audit. International Journal of Mental Health Addiction