Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

New plain packaging research - experts respond

By various experts

As New Zealand deliberates over the introduction of 'plain packaging' for cigarettes, a new study confirms that such measures reduce the appeal of tobacco products.

Scientists from Canada, the US, and Brazil have conducted a study of 640 young Brazilian women to determine if cigarettes had the same appeal when presented in plain packaging.

Dr David Hammond from the University of Waterloo, Canada, who led this study explained:
"The women in this study rated branded packs as more appealing, more stylish and sophisticated than the plain packs. They also thought that cigarettes in branded packs would be better tasting and smoother. Removal of all description from the packs, leaving only the brand, further reduced their appeal. In the pack offer test, participants were three times more likely to choose the branded pack as a free gift."

The results from this study, the first to look at the effect of plain cigarette packaging on smoking in Latin America, backs up a wealth of similar research carried out in other countries which has found that plain packaging makes cigarettes less appealing to young people.

Professor Alistair Woodward, Head of School of Population Health, University of Auckland, comments:
"The findings from the Brazil study fit with what has been observed elsewhere. Tobacco packaging affects the opinions and behaviours of smokers. Many controlled studies of the kind carried out in Brazil have demonstrated this. The tobacco industry knows very well the value of brand packaging. This is why they have invested so heavily in design and illustration in the past, and why the industry now opposes plain packaging so vehemently."

Prof Janet Hoek, Department of Marketing, University of Otago, comments:
"This paper on plain packaging adds to the growing evidence base supporting this measure. The authors begin by outlining how vitally important packaging is to the tobacco industry and document important evidence that New Zealand officials should review as they consider whether to recommend adoption of plain packaging. Specifically, White et al. document how packaging communicates desirable attributes, such as smoking and femininity, glamour, and thinness, while simultaneously deflecting attention from health warnings. Further, they note how tobacco companies have used colours, particularly white and silver, to convey impressions of reduced-harm products, thus deceptively minimising the myriad risks smoking poses.

"Overall, this study reinforces earlier work showing how plain packaging will reduce perceptions of smoking and diminish the benefits smoking is perceived to deliver. New Zealand studies (available on request) also illustrate the powerful effect on-pack branding has on smokers' (and non-smokers') perceptions. In addition, New Zealand research has found that plain packaging not only affects smokers' perceptions, but influences their choice behaviours (significantly fewer select 'plain' packages) and likelihood of making a quit attempt (significantly higher following exposure to plain packaging)."