Study says plain cigarette pack warnings are impacting smokers

By Richard Stuart-Turner, Friday 29 March 2019

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Health warnings on plain packaged cigarettes impact smokers more than warnings on branded packs, according to new research from the University of Stirling.

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Standardised tobacco packaging was fully implemented in the UK in May 2017

In one of the first studies to examine the ways that smokers responded to standardised (plain) packaging, experts at the Institute of Social Marketing surveyed current smokers in early 2017, when both standardised and fully branded packs were on the market.

The research team investigated whether there was an association between using standardised packs and the health warnings, thoughts about the risks of smoking, thoughts about quitting, and awareness and use of stop-smoking websites.

They conducted a cross-sectional online survey with 1,865 current smokers aged 16 and over, living in Yorkshire and Humber and the West Midlands, between February and April 2017, when both standardised and fully branded packs were on the market.

The UK became the third country to fully implement standardised tobacco packaging in May 2017, following Australia in December 2012 and France in January 2017. The UK phased in standardised packaging, with companies given 12 months from May 2016 to implement the policy.

Warnings used on standardised packs were novel and larger than those on fully-branded packs and displayed pictorial images on both main display areas, rather than just the reverse.

76% of smokers asked said they were using standardised packs at this time, 9% said they were not currently using them but had done previously and 14% said they had never used them.

The study, which was funded by Cancer Research UK and involved King’s College London, found that smokers using standardised packs were more likely to have noticed the warnings ‘often’ or ‘very often’ compared to those who had never used standardised packs.

Crawford Moodie, senior research fellow at the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling, who led the study, said: “We found that UK smokers currently using standardised packs were more likely, than those who had never used standardised packs, to have noticed and read, or looked closely at, the health warnings, thought about the risks, and thought about quitting due to the look of the pack.

“They were also more likely to report awareness of a stop-smoking website and cite warnings on packs of cigarettes or rolling tobacco as a source of awareness.”

He added: “The UK Department of Health estimates that standardised packaging will have a net benefit to government of £25bn ten years post-implementation.

“While our findings provide support for standardised packaging during the transition period, further research is needed to explore the intended and any unintended consequences of this policy in the UK, and elsewhere, after it has been fully implemented.”

Mike Ridgway, director of the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance (CPMA), questioned the findings of the study. He told PrintWeek: “It’s all very well saying plain packs have an impact, but there’s no firm evidence that people actually stop smoking because of the packs or that consumers are put off buying them.

“The study also fails to record the aspect of the illicit trade and, importantly, counterfeit product now flooding across the country, evidenced by seizures and court convictions.”

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