General Health Friday January 6, 2012

Are plain cigarette packs the way forward?

According to a recent article by Reuters, the British Heart Foundation is urging the government to change legislation that dictates branding and advertising on cigarette packages, so that they are plainer and less appealing. This comes after the charity did a survey among young people to establish if they would find packaging less appealing if it didn’t contain any form of branding or personality. The majority response indicated that young people might be less likely to smoke if they were plainer. However, in reality will dull packaging be effective as motivating people to give up or take up smoking, and why?

What Australia did

This is not the first time that this topic has reached the news, as Australia, controversially, decided in November last year that they plan to implement similar restrictions on cigarette packaging during the course of this year. The new laws dictate that packages will have to be olive green, as people are believed to find the colour less appealing, will contain graphic images that portray the effects of smoking on the body accompanied by health warnings, but most importantly of all, no branding of any kind will be allowed to be printed on them.

Current restrictions

In many countries including the UK, tobacco companies aren’t allowed to advertise, meaning that their only means to get the public’s attention is to make cigarette packaging as appealing as possible, which means that naturally a decision such as will be controversial. In Australia tobacco companies threatened to take legal action if the law were to be implemented.

Getting the message

Cigarette manufacturers are already required to place images of the effects of smoking as well as warning messages on their cigarettes. However, research has shown that amidst the branding, these images might not be as noticeable as they need to be. Plain packaging is thought to enhance these warning images, which could enhance the message being received by us. It’s also possible that the colour of the plain packaging could influence the perception of how good cigarettes are, as the famous Philip Morris study from the US showed, when it discovered that we perceived cigarettes in red packaging to be harsher than those in blue packs and that the ones in the blue packs were thought to burn too fast and weren’t easy to smoke, even though both types of cigarettes where exactly the same.


What the research says

Research done on plain packaging has shown similar results, with participants perceiving those cigarettes in plain packaging as being less tobacco rich and less ‘trendy’ than those in branded colourful packs. This would mean that if packaging were to chance, we’d be less likely to buy cigarette brand because it projected a certain image.

It’s possible that it might deter people from taking up smoking, as the British Heart Foundation study found, but those that are already smokers that have already developed an addiction to cigarettes, may not be as susceptible.

At least clearer health messages will make people more aware of the health risks of smoking, however it’s still not the same as being told face-to-face by a friend or relative, according to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. There has also been research that shows that nicotine addiction may make people less receptive to the effects of visual messages, because of how it can influence brain chemistry.

Although I agree with this potential new legislation, as I think that it has the potential to be very effective as a deterrent as well as a quit-smoking motivator, however I think that there should still be emphasis placed on tailor made smoking solutions for those who are already smokers.

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