The effects of plain packaging of cigarettes

Following a 3-month rollout period, since 1 December 2012 all tobacco products manufactured and sold in Australia have had to be in plain brown packaging. Seventy-five percent of the front of the pack requires a graphic health warning, and the brand name is restricted to a set font and size (see http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011L02644 for the packaging regulations). As noted on the Australian government website (http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-plain), this world first injury prevention effort aimed to

  • increase the noticeability, recall and impact of health warning messages;
  • reduce the ability of packaging to mislead consumers to believe that some products may be less harmful than others; and
  • reduce the attractiveness of the tobacco product, for both adults and children.

Wakefield, Hayes, Durkin and Borland evaluated the impact of this legislation in a project published online this month (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710988/).

Analyses focused on comparing the perceptions and experiences of branded-packaging cigarette smokers with perceptions and experiences of plain-packaging cigarette smokers during the 3-month rollout period. Key findings are that, in comparison to branded-packaging smokers, plain-packaging smokers

  • reported their cigarettes were of poorer quality and were less satisfying than cigarettes were one year ago;
  • were significantly more likely to have thought about quitting at least one a day in the past week; and
  • rated quitting as a higher priority in their lives.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, plain-packaging smokers were also more likely to support the plain-packaging policy. Whilst the plain packaging with large, graphic images did not increase the frequency of thoughts about smoking-related harms, the considerable differences apparent already during the initial rollout period merit the practice and policy. I look forward to seeing further evalautions of the impact of this policy and practice change.

 

 

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