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Australian smokers warm to plain packaging rules

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by In collaboration with PA Media Group | News

11 November 2014

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Cigarettes in plain packaging

Many smokers in Australia have changed their minds and given a thumbs-up to plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products since its introduction, with more now backing the move than opposing it.

“It’s great to see the results of this research reinforcing such a vital initiative.” – George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK

Support for standard packs increased by a huge 20.8 per cent after the move, rising from 28.2 per cent to just under 50 per cent.

The results suggest that smokers in other countries looking to implement similar policies will also warm to the idea.

The Australian government fully introduced its new packaging rule on December 1, 2012. The move bans all branding and trademarks from cigarette packets except for the brand name, which is only allowed in a standard font.

Packs are now also required to carry larger graphic health warnings, advising smokers about the harmful effects of tobacco.

Researchers from Australia, the UK, USA and Canada wanted to see if support for the new policy would change among smokers after the rules were implemented. 

Smokers had already proven themselves to be adaptable following bans of tobacco in bars, restaurants and the work place.

Taking this into account, the scientists predicted that support for standardised packaging would also increase.

To find out, the researchers looked at data from the Australian arm of the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey, which explores the effectiveness of tobacco control policies in different countries over time.

They studied the responses of 6,384 people to surveys about packaging taken between 2007 and 2013.

The results showed that just under half of smokers in the country backed the changes, compared with 34.7 per cent who did not. 

The researchers said: “Support for plain packs has greatly increased among Australian smokers since the implementation of the policy, with now only a minority of smokers remaining opposed.”

Smokers were found to be more likely to support the changes if they:

  • Had a strong desire to quit
  • Were not heavy smokers
  • Strongly feared that their health was at risk from smoking

Those most opposed to the move were heavy smokers and smokers who underestimated the health risks.

George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, said the findings provided a “really useful insight” into the impact of standardised tobacco packaging.

“We expected to see support grow for this important measure and it’s great to see the results of this research reinforcing such a vital initiative. 

“Cigarette packs are one of the last remaining ways that the tobacco industry has of promoting their lethal product, and we look forward to seeing the UK government implement this vital health measure over here,” he added.

Dr Ron Borland of The Cancer Council Victoria and colleagues, published their findings in the journal Tobacco Control.

  • Swift et al, Australian smokers’ support for plain or standardised packs before and after implementation: findings from the ITC Four Country Survey, Tobacco Control (2014) DOI: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-051880