“New evidence suggests that plain cigarette packaging can affect smoking behavior.”
On my previous comic, I explored how graphic warnings on cigarette packs may not be effective in reducing smoking behavior. This time, I explore an interesting habit most of my smoker friends do. They often have to transfer their cigarettes from the newly bought pack to their own case which usually has a plain or minimal design. From my understanding, this is done for two main reasons: avoidance of gruesome images and protection against water damage. However, I want to know whether plain cigarette packs have any effect in individuals’ smoking behavior and/or intention.
Standardized Tobacco Packaging
Plain tobacco packaging, also referred to as generic, neutral, standardized or homogeneous packaging, involves the removal of all tobacco company branding such as colors, imagery, logos, and trademarks. Companies are only allowed to include their brand name in a specific size, font, and place on the pack, as well as graphic and text health warnings. Below are some packaging examples that comply with the standardized packaging regulations:
The use of plain tobacco packaging is to discourage smoking by eliminating any positive associations from branding and restrict manufacturers from brand advertising.
However, do they actually work?
What does the current evidence support?
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggested the use of standardized or ‘plain’ tobacco packaging based on numerous studies focusing on the influence of tobacco packaging and promotion towards people’s knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Australia was the first country in the world to implement standardized packaging of tobacco products combined with graphic health warnings around the end of 2012, while France implemented their standardized tobacco packaging on the 1st of January 2017.
Here are some findings regarding the effect of standardized and branded tobacco packs in smoking:
Participants’ smoking experience are perceived to be more pleasant when they know the brand of their cigarette compared to when they did not, even when both cigarettes were identical (Skaczkowski et al., 2018). This suggests that participants’ biases and expectations of a brand can influence their actual experience.
A systematic review by a team of Cochrane researchers from the UK and Canada, suggests that based on the current evidence, the standardized packaging may reduce the prevalence of smoking (McNeill et al., 2017). Findings from the analysis of 51 studies involving around a total of 800,000 participants are summarized below:
● Studies that measured tobacco consumption showed mixed results, some found no differences and some others found a decrease in smoking behavior.
● Out of 5441 participants, the attempt to quit smoking increased from 20.2% to 26.6% after one year of implementing standardized tobacco packs.
● Another study suggests that there is an increased of 78% in the number of calls to quitlines after the implementation of standardized packaging. However, the study does not have a direct and clear explanation of this finding.
● Other findings suggests that standardized packs can increase avoidance behaviors and reduce cravings (Brose et al., 2014; .
● Studies that measure eye-tracking movement suggests that individuals are more likely to pay attention to the health warnings when the packs are standardized than when they are branded (Shankleman et al., 2014).
● Standardized packs are also less likely to encourage younger people to start smoking compared to branded packs.
● One of the most common finding across the studies is how the majority of participants have lower ratings on the appeal of standardized packs than the branded ones (Hughes et al., 2016).