The idea that tobacco should be sold in plain packs without branding – but crucially with large health warnings – was suggested years ago by experts in reducing smoking. It’s no surprise that the tobacco industry has been absolutely determined in its opposition – one industry insider said [pdf]: “we don’t want to see plain packaging introduced anywhere regardless of the size and importance of the market.”
So far they’ve had a lot of success in fighting every attempt to introduce plain packs, although we’re delighted that next year Australia may become the first country in the world to bring it in.
That means that if we want to learn more about the impact of plain packaging, we can’t simply look at a country which has already taken that step. But one of Cancer Research UK’s tobacco experts, Dr Crawford Moodie, has been studying what happens in the real world when young smokers use non-branded packs.
In a recent study, published in September in the journal Tobacco Control, his research group, based at the University of Stirling, looked at what happened when nearly 50 young adult smokers smoked cigarettes in non-branded cigarette packs in normal everyday situations for two weeks.
Dr Moodie’s team then compared the reaction to this packaging with the reactions to using regular packs for two weeks, and found that smokers rated plainly wrapped cigarettes negatively against the original packs.
They took out the cigarettes from their pocket or bag less often, handed them out less frequently and often hid the pack from others, compared with their counterparts with branded packs.
By itself, this study is of course not a definitive answer on the issue – it’s a small study and the researchers are working on a larger scale version. But when we put this evidence together with the large number of other studies showing plain tobacco packs are less attractive to young people, we start to see why cigarette packaging is so important.
We can never do a randomised control trial for plain packaging as we would for a new drug – it wouldn’t be ethical. But as we put together different pieces of evidence, the picture comes into ever-sharper focus.
Packs are designed to be attractive and communicate the ‘personality’ of a cigarette brand. But in reality, the ‘personality’ of a cigarette is closer to that of a cold-hearted killer. Let’s not forget what the end point of this clever marketing is – it’s to encourage people to do something that increases their risk of cancer, heart disease, strokes, impotence, cataracts and death for half of all long term users.
That’s not something a tobacco company would be very keen to show the public on a cigarette pack.
When hundreds of thousands of young people start smoking each year, this is an urgent problem.
The need for action is clear.
Robin Hewings is Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control policy manager
Moodie, C., Mackintosh, A., Hastings, G., & Ford, A. (2011). Young adult smokers’ perceptions of plain packaging: a pilot naturalistic study Tobacco Control, 20 (5), 367-373 DOI: 10.1136/tc.2011.042911
Rachel February 19, 2012
I am currently working on research into plain packaging. In response to the previous comments, the aim of this article (and all the research going into plain packaging) is not to give smokers a hard time. In fact the introduction of plain packaging would be more aimed at preventing the uptake of smoking by young people, rather than encouraging current established smokers to quit. In which case those who say they are sick of being given a hard time because they started smoking at a young age shouldn’t be against this move, but should be FOR it – It will help to prevent the next generation taking up smoking at a young age too, whilst having minimal effects on you.
rachael December 8, 2011
Do not give smokers a hard time. I said at the age of 12 I would not smoke, by 17 I was. I dont know what all the fuss is about as my partner and I smoke roll ups. But you all seem too quick to jump on theband-wagon?? And also I’ve got cancer, just found out and its nothing to do with smoking. WELL???
rachael December 8, 2011
i am 37yrs old, I have smoked since I was 17yrs of age. I have lost my grandfather through lung cancer ,when he was 64 and I was 12. I have also lost a very dear friend who died 4yrs ago at the ripe-old age of 39. She too died of lung cancer- I watched, waited and felt everything that she did. I saw her pain, I knew she was scared of death and I knew she wasn’t finished yet. These adverts will not stop me smoking. Sometimes you need a bloody fag. Give us a brake, we do not choose to smoke. We just tried it and thats the B-ALL of it. We cant through it away like you do your latte cups, itsnot that simple sometimes.
keith barber November 30, 2011
any effort that discourages smoking should be brought in and tried out. even if only limited success is achieved – as tesco says
“every little helps”
Helen November 7, 2011
Just a thought, but maybe the smokers were hesitant about letting people see the plain packs in case they were accused of buying smuggled or otherwise “hooky” cigarettes?
And although I know what the writer is driving at, I don’t see how smoking (or anything, indeed) can “increase the risk of death for half of all long-term users”: surely this risk is 100% for every human being?
Anna November 4, 2011
I gave up smoking for 3 years about 5 years ago and never felt better, but I have to be honest, it was not because of the health issue (HUGE warnings on cigarette packets), it was more because of the stigma of smoking – how much I smelt, how ‘tarty’ and ‘cheap’ it looked.
My darling cousin died of cancer less than 6 months ago and it seemed so unfair because she DIDN’T smoke, she hardly drunk either. She was an angel. I smoked in front of her (albeit at the bottom of her field) at her home in Vermont – a farewell trip from the UK in May this year. How AWFUL, but it’s because I am addicted. I smoke maybe 3 cigs a day (when i get home from work), but I’m addicted. I feel like a leper in front of non-smoking friends, but the point is, I hide the vile packets by de-canting the cigarettes into an old fashioned silver cigarette case because I’d hate anyone to see a cigarette packet in my bag or pocket. It makes me feel dirty and ugly and my cellulite is worse than it’s ever been.
So, a brown plain packet would be JUST as awful to have in my bag, who cares about the brand?! I’d prefer to buy them if they were hidden behind the counter, because then people may not see me buying them! What we need to fight is, preventing the addiction in the first place. It’s got to start at school. There needs to be a ‘cool’ alternative so that kids don’t try it in the first place, or a MASSIVE campaign from all cancer charities and the NHS to make kids see how horrendous they look and smell. Before and after photos of gorgeous young people next to long term ‘grey’ looking, lined, cellulite covered, tramp-smelling sad people who when they get stressed go for a ‘fag’ instead of a run, or…… I don’t know. But there HAS to be another solution than plain brown packets. It WON’T work!