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Plain packaging an “extraordinary success” March 2015, Volume 25, Issue 2

Anne Messenger

Published 30 March 2015. doi:
Citation: Messenger A. Plain packaging an “extraordinary success”. Public Health Res Pract. 2015;25(2):e2521523

  • Citation

As the Irish and British parliaments this month followed Australia’s lead and voted to introduce tobacco plain packaging, two Victorian studies have found that introduction of standardised packs and graphic health warnings has reduced the appeal of cigarettes.

Earlier this month, Ireland became the second country in the world after Australia to pass legislation through its parliament to remove all tobacco industry marketing from cigarette packs. Britain followed suit on 17 March and both will introduce plain packaging from May next year.

The study of adolescents, conducted by Cancer Council Victoria, examined the impact of plain packaging with enhanced graphic health warnings on adolescents’ perceptions of pack image and perceived brand differences.

The researchers surveyed 12−17-year-old school students in 2011, before introduction of plain packaging, and in 2013, 7–12 months afterwards. They found that positive character ratings for each brand reduced significantly between 2011 and 2013. Changes were found for four of five statements reflecting brand differences. Significantly fewer students in 2013 than 2011 agreed that “some brands have better looking packs than others”, with larger decreases found among smokers.

The study of adults, also by Cancer Council Victoria, surveyed a representative sample of adult smokers and found that graphic health warnings positively and significantly predicted the likelihood that smokers at follow-up reported thinking about quitting at least daily, intended to quit, had a firm date to quit, stubbed out cigarettes prematurely, stopped themselves from smoking and had attempted to quit.

Desperate counter-arguments

Australia introduced standardised packaging in December 2012, and has since been subject to legal action by tobacco companies, which claim that plain packaging damages their brands. Professor Mike Daube, President of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health said plain packaging in Australia had been an “extraordinary success story”.

“Getting it through was a tough battle against the world’s most ruthless industry – but it has been a success on almost every count, including the rare prize of international replication,” he said. “This research shows how well it is working, and consigns the tobacco industry’s desperate counter-arguments to the scrap heap where they belong.

“I can’t think of any similar legislation that has been so meticulously evaluated – or so quickly followed by other countries. Ireland and the UK have already followed, and at least 10 other countries are on the way. That is a huge compliment to Australia’s public health reputation, as well as the political leadership and bipartisan support that made it happen.”

Results better than expected

Professor Daube said the Cancer Council Victoria research results were better than expected. “No wonder the tobacco companies opposed plain packaging so ferociously. This has been the most ferocious opposition I have seen from the industry to any measure in more than 40 years.

“We now have evidence of falling sales, declining smoking and positive impacts on adults, potential quitters and children. That’s an extraordinary outcome after only two years for a measure that was always aimed at the longer term.”

After the passage of his legislation to introduce plain packaging, the Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly said: “Today is a very good day for the future health of our children. The interests of public health will be served when children decide never to take up smoking in the first place and if smokers are persuaded to quit”.

Both Ireland and Britain will introduce plain packaging from 20 May next year to coincide with the deadline for European Union member states to introduce large health warnings on all cigarette packs.