More on plain packaging

Martin Johnson at NZ Herald reports:

The claim by New Zealand’s main companies that will not reduce the prevalence of smoking has been dismissed by a researcher who tested the concept.

Okay, so what was tested.

One study Professor Hoek cited involved group discussions and in-depth interviews with 86 young adults, both smokers and non-smokers, about tobacco packaging including their views about sample plain white packets with expanded health warnings which they were shown.

“That just doesn’t look trendy at all … it’s just budget … it’s like, lame,” one participant said of the plain packaging, according to a paper published in the journal Qualitative Health Research last December.

Other comments included:

“There’s just nothing attractive with it. There isn’t a cool colour, there isn’t any kind of marking that would grab you.”

“For someone who’s starting smoking … it’d be a lot harder to identify with a brand if it’s just colourless.”

So let us accept that packaging can affect whether a packet looks trendy or cool.

The paper concludes that, given tobacco companies’ huge efforts to develop brands that appealed to young adults, “it is logical to assume that decreasing these appeals would, over time, reduce the behaviours they stimulate and support”.

But this is the leap of faith. It is all based on an assumption that having packets with less appeal, will lead to less people smoking.

The reverse psychology that as tobacco companies spend huge money on developing brands that appeal, then getting rid of the brands will decrease demand is also flawed. Because we do not know whether the brands attract smokers to that particular brand, or attract someone to become and remain a smoker.

That is what I’d like to see research on.

I would note that smoking prevalence has been dropping consistently, despite the more sophisticated branding compared to a generation ago.

If there is actual research showing that plain packaging reduces the smoking rate (as opposed to reduces the attractiveness of a packet), then there would be a stronger case for plain packaging.

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