9 August 2012, 14:46

Plain pack: no more cigarette branding?

Plain pack: no more cigarette branding?
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Five percent of children aged between five and fifteen smoke regularly in the UK. Meanwhile, the government says it is deciding whether to ban cigarette branding and enforce plain packaging. The public consultation on plain packaging has been extended by a month by the UK government and ends on Friday. But will dull cigarette packets make a difference whether people smoke or not?

Almost a quarter of a million people have signed a petition demanding that UK government drops plans to put tobacco into plain packaging. Campaign Hands Off Our Packs have delivered a petition with 235,000 signatures on it to the Department of Health. Meanwhile, cancer charities are claiming more than 75,000 people have signed a petition to support The Answer Is Plain Campaign. Now the research has emerged from the University of Bristol suggesting plain packaging does deter young smokers from taking up the habit in the first place by encouraging them to pay more attention to the health warnings. Doctor Olivia Maynard led the research.

“We showed people plain packages of cigarettes and we showed them also brand packages. And we looked at where they were looking. And we found that non-established smokers looked much more at the health warnings when they were presented a plain package as compared with one looking on a brander package of cigarettes”.

Compared to adults, teenagers are more likely to take up smoking. And Dr. Maynard believes packaging is a key to discouraging young smokers.

“I think what this research shows is that these young people looked at the health warnings more. And when you look at something more – you understand it more. And when you understand a health warning more – you understand the risk of smoking. And this does lead changes in smoking behavior, such as for going cigarettes or even preventing from starting smoking and encouraging to quit smoking”.

Dr. Maynard agrees this research is not enough to determine the long-term habits of smoking, though.

“This research is really important in telling us that plain packaging increases prominence of the health warnings. But a lot more research is still needs to be done. And I’m sure if it’s done, they will still say, “There’s still not enough research.” The problem is we don’t know what effect the plain packaging will have until the plain packaging is actually introduced in the country”.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Addiction and Dr. Maynard hopes they will influence the UK government’s policy on plain packaging.

“This research is really relevant for tobacco policy at the moment. The Australian government is the first to introduce legislation to implement plain packaging of cigarettes and it’s due to come in play in December of this year. And tobacco companies are filing lawsuits against this legislation. So this research is very important informing the Australian government and other governments around the world about the importance of plain packaging”.

But Chris Snowdown, author of Velvet Glove. Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking disagrees:

“Firstly, what does it say about the science that’s coming up from tobacco control when scientists are saying, “Please, this is going to have an influence!” And this shows you how led-by-policy some of the so-called science is. It seems that what’ going to happen internationally – if we want serious evidence, we’ll have to wait for a couple of years. If smoking rate does drop in Australia, then possibly policy makers might want to consider that. If smoking increases – they might seriously think about not doing it”.

Australia is the only country to have passed legislation requiring all tobacco products to be sold in plain packets, free from logos, images and colors with the law coming into effect in December.

“So there’s no rush coming into this. The Australian ban is going to have a lot of opposition from tobacco companies regarding intellectual property problems and free trade problems. It seems to violate at least one international free trade agreement. So there’s a whole lot of headaches that’s going to face any government which looks at this. I think, the most sensible and cost-effective way would be to let Australia overcome this and then we can learn from their experience”.

Ukraine and the Dominican Republic are among the countries involved in the international trade dispute with Australia. Since April shops and supermarkets in England have been forced to cover up high displays of cigarettes and tobacco products. The next step of stripping packets of all colors, logos and branding will be decided on Friday when the UK Department of Health Consultation process ends.

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