Roberta with Nikki McCann and an example of the unbranded cigarette packet
I recently met with Nikki McCann, an ambassador from Cancer Research UK to talk about the campaign for plain tabacco packaging. With new laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes from vending machines and tobacco displays in supermarkets and shops, the tobacco industry is putting more importance than ever on using packaging to make its products more attractive. While tobacco advertising is being made a thing of the past, advertising on cigarette packaging remains a clear anomaly.
The British Heart Foundation has just produced a report which thoroughly details just how much of an impact banning advertising on cigarette packaging.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable premature deaths in the United Kingdom. The tobacco industry spends millions of pounds on developing packaging which is designed to look cool, sexy, and entice young smokers into a lifetime addiction that kills 100,000 people in the UK each year. Every year 200,000 children and young people in England start smoking. We must all do what we can to reduce the attractiveness of this deadly habit
In recent years the industry has increasingly targeted young women, particularly through new ‘super-slim’ branding and packaging, with two new ‘designer’ packs launched in 2011. An industry spokesperson commented that their company’s marketing is not aimed at encouraging anybody to start smoking, but is simply trying to encourage existing smokers to switch to their brands. But for a profit-making industry, new customers are essential. As exposed in the BHF report, internal industry documents do not shay away from this fact, acknowledging the need to attract new smokers. The tobacco industry as a result invests significant resouce to innovate the branding on its packaging to attract more people to buy the product.
Experimental studies where example plain packs have been used alongside existing brands have shown that plain packaging can help to reduce the appeal of the product. One study looking at adult smokers in Australia found that cigarette packs that displayed progressively fewer branding design elements were perceived increasingly unfavourably by smokers.
Similar research in Canada looked specifically at female smokers aged 18 to 25 years old, and found that removing descriptors and colours significantly reduced a pack’s appeal – plain packs were associated with fewer positive characteristics than fully branded packs, including glamour, being slim, popular, attractive and sophisticated.
In the BHF’s 2011 polling, 16-25 year olds were asked to compare an Australian-style plain pack with UK picture warnings placed on the front, alongside two existing brands. Over 87 per cent of respondents found the plain packs to be the least attractive, with the reaction stronger among regular smokers with 91 per cent finding plain packs the least attractive.
The industry has claimed that plain packaging legislation would represent an acquisition of intellectual property, and as such would contravene various international trade agreements. Under plain packaging, intellectual property of tobacco companies would be retained by those companies. Governments would not intend to use the logos, and tobacco companies will retain full rights to both their logos and brand imagery – legislation will simply prevent their use on cigarette packaging.
There is no credible evidence to support tobacco industry claims that such legislation would increase illicit tobacco use, and existing anti-counterfeiting measures would apply to plain packaging. Following consultation with the industry, the Australian plans for plain packaging include placement of a unique alphanumeric code on each pack on a voluntary basis and covert markings including taggart ink, which can only be identified through specialised equipment.
Introducing plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, particularly for young people, increase the prominence and effectiveness of health warnings, and reduce the ability of packaging to mislead smokers about the harms of smoking.
An example of the new packagaing
The Government should at the earliest opportunity:
- introduce a tobacco plain packaging bill into Parliament,
- seek amendments to the EU Tobacco Products Directive, to enable large front-of-pack picture health warnings.
By introducing plain packaging for tobacco products across the UK, the Government would eliminate this remaining ‘silent salesman’ of the tobacco industry. This would cut off the last avenue for tobacco companies to advertise their deadly products to young people and would uphold the spirit of existing legislation.
Over the long-term, this would lead to less people taking up smoking, and fewer people dying as a result of smoking-related diseases such as heart disease. The UK Government should take the opportunity to close this loophole and protect children and young people from the damage caused by tobacco marketing.
To see for yourself how cigarette packaginging can influence young people you can watch this video from the BHF.
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