Cigarette packet branding is the tobacco industry’s “silent salesman” helping hook children and young people, a group of industry experts have warned.
Speaking on Wednesday at a discussion of several studies on the impact of introducing plain cigarette packaging, marketing expert Crawford Moodie said there was a definite link between smokers and tobacco branding.
He told participants in the Brussels event that cigarette packaging was the industry’s “silent salesman”.
The panel of experts conducted studies among young people and young adult smokers, drawing similar conclusions that cigarette packaging clearly has “some appeal”.
Moodie, of the institute of social marketing at Stirling university in Scotland, conducted an online survey, which found that almost one in three young people admitted to choosing a certain brand of cigarettes because they were attracted by the pack’s appearance.
It was also found that even the colour of the pack could mislead people with up to a third of young people associating pack colour with the strength of the cigarettes inside.
Karine Gallopel-Morvan, a lecturer at Rennes university in France, found that a plain pack design with health warnings would deter almost all non smokers from taking up smoking and would reduce the desire amongst smokers to take a cigarette from the pack.
“Tobacco packaging is a powerful advertising tool,” Gallopel-Morvan said. “But plain packaging can undermine this advertising function.”
The European commission has just completed a public consultation on whether the 2001 tobacco products directive should be revised.
There have been growing calls from the anti-smoking sector to introduce plain packaging as part of that revision.
Gallopel-Morvan also added that the tobacco products directive may have more impact if other tools were used as well, such as increasing the price of cigarettes and introducing more smoke free zones in public places.
Plain packaging essentially means that cigarette pack would be free from logos, graphics and designs, and would stick to a standard style with the brand name written in small characters.
Further measures could include ‘scare photos’ covering the majority of pack space and more detailed indications of the harmful substances cigarettes carry plus a series of new health warnings.
It is thought that new plain pack designs will deter children from taking up smoking and support those trying to quit.
Further analysis at the event, organised by the association of European cancer leagues and the Belgian foundation against cancer, came from Guido Van Hal who carried out a study on 15- to 19-year-olds in Antwerp.
The research showed that the appearance of the cigarette package was one of the main motives for buying them.
A professor at Antwerp university, Van Hal said plain packaging had the biggest impact on non regular smokers.
He said that in a group of non regular smokers, “plain packages were seen as a reason not to buy cigarettes, as they were perceived as something of a lesser quality”.
“Therefore, plain packages might prevent this ‘in between’ category of non regular smokers becoming regular smokers,” he said.
Luk Joossens, a tobacco control expert from the Belgian foundation against cancer, added, “Up to 75 per cent of all EU citizens are in favour of putting picture health warnings on all packages of tobacco products and 54 per cent are in favour of banning logos and promotional elements.”
However cigarette manufacturers have raised concerns that the introduction of plain packaging could make it easier for criminals to counterfeit cigarettes.
However, Joossens told the Parliament.com that regardless of the plain packaging it will still be easy to identify counterfeited cigarettes.
“Unique codes and invisible ink along with the quality and packaging will indicate whether the cigarettes are illegal,” he said. “So there is no reason to suggest it will increase illegal trade.”
Moodie dismissed the tobacco lobby’s comment as a smoke screen saying, “This is just what the tobacco industry says to try and scare off policymakers.”
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