Plain Packaging Laws Might Spur Smokers to Quit

Legislation would also keep tobacco marketing in check, experts say

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 19, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Legislation that strips cigarette packaging of all brand-specific design may boost the number of smokers who want to try quitting, a new Australian survey reveals.

Researchers polled more than 5,000 Australian adults between 2012 and 2013. During that time, an Australian law was implemented requiring that all tobacco packaging be standardized and carry large graphic images warning of the dangers of cigarettes.

Ireland and Britain also have passed laws requiring plain cigarette packing.

The survey, published March 18 in Tobacco Control, focused on Australian smokers aged 18 to 69.

The findings "provide some of the strongest evidence to date" that such laws up the likelihood that smokers will try to quit or at least contemplate kicking the habit, the survey team said in the news release.

All participants were contacted twice over the course of a month.

Some were contacted shortly before the new law took effect, and others just as it was coming online. A third group was contacted while the law was in effect but still being rolled out, while a fourth group was polled after the law was fully implemented.

The result: Compared with those polled before the law had taken hold, those contacted during the first year of standardized packaging were more likely to attempt to quit, more likely to hide the packs from public view, and more likely to put out their cigarettes before they were fully smoked.

However, the survey did not track quitting success, noting that "the extent to which the positive outcomes we observed may be maintained and translate into longer-term reductions in smoking prevalence still needs to be determined."

In an accompanying editorial, British researchers hailed the effort to standardize packaging. They said a failure to do so would ultimately allow cigarette manufacturers to develop and market a whole range of new packaging to lure and retain customers.

In the absence of standardizing laws, "the pack will continue to be used as a marketing channel and innovations will proliferate," Gerard Hastings and Dr. Crawford Moodie, of the Cancer Research UK Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Stirling in Scotland, warned in the news release.

Design innovations that cigarette companies might eventually embrace, they said, include audio packs that play music or messages; packs that emit appealing fragrances; light-sensitive and image-shifting containers, and even packs outfitted with electronic boards to allow for on-pack touch pads and/or smartphone connections.

"Whatever directions these innovations take," the authors said, "it is clear that the marketing power of the pack is only going to increase. So governments which do not act on plain packaging today will have a bigger problem to tackle tomorrow."