Could plain cigarette packaging send the tobacco industry up in smoke?
A new study suggests generic packaging could significantly decrease the number of adults who smoke and lead to a decrease in the number of children who try cigarettes.
Generic packaging, which does not use brand imagery or promotional text, would reduce the number of adult smokers by 1 percent and the number of children who try smoking by 3 percent, researchers in Great Britain estimate.
In the United Kingdom, where approximately 10 million adults smoke, a 1 percent decrease in smokers means about 500,000 fewer people lighting up.
Plain packaging helps reduce smoking rates in young people because it makes cigarettes look less appealing, lessens brand identification , and creates a change in the social norms associated with smoking, the study found.
“Given that the majority of smokers first try smoking in adolescence, the impact on children is of particular importance,” said Rachel Pechey, first author of the study from the University of Cambridge’s Behavior and Health Research Unit.
The experts who participated in the study believe it takes about two years for decreases in smoking rates to start taking effect once a plain-packaging strategy is implemented in a particular country. But the impact of the strategy may well go beyond what tobacco control experts have predicted.
“Despite the consistency of experts’ predictions that plain packaging would reduce smoking rates, many participants felt that the two-year time frame we used was insufficient and did not allow for the full impact of the packaging. This suggests generic packaging could have a greater impact over a longer term period,” Pechey said.
Australia became the first country to implement plain packaging in Dec 2012, and time will soon tell if the strategy is successful there.
The research evaluated the professional opinions of 33 tobacco control experts — 14 from the U.K., 12 from Australasia and seven from North America — on the impact plain packaging would have on smoking habits.