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Tobacco packaging report published

Posted on 09/01/2015
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Image courtesy of the BHF*

Dr Sara Hitchman from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) has led on a recent report that found health warnings are more effective on tobacco products with standardised packaging. 

Figures revealed that two thirds (66%) of Australian smokers and ex-smokers now notice the warning labels first when they look at a packet of cigarettes. This is up from around one third (34%) who noticed the warnings before a law came into force in December 2012 requiring tobacco companies to use standardised packaging for cigarettes in Australia. Moreover, in the UK, where tobacco is still sold in branded packaging, only (24%) said they noticed the warnings first. 

Additionally, the report showed that standardised packaging decreases the appeal of tobacco products. The percentage of Australian smokers who responded, "not at all" when asked how much they liked the look of their cigarette pack increased from (44%) before standardised packs to (82%) after their introduction. In the UK, cigarette packs remain appealing, with just 38% of smokers reporting "not at all" when asked how much they like the look of their cigarette pack. The new report demonstrates that standardised packaging is effective and important for public health.

Dr Sara Hitchman is a lecturer in the IoPPN Addictions Department with research interests in tobacco harm reduction, global tobacco control policy, smoking among people with mental health problems, and smoking cessation. Using longitudinal cohort data from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (www.itcproject.org), Dr Hitchman, along with Professor Ann McNeill, and their colleagues from the University of Waterloo in Canada, and the Cancer Council Victoria in Australia assembled the report with funding and support from the British Heart Foundation. The full report is available to download here.

“Overall this report lends further support to the existing evidence base that standardised packaging increases the noticeability of tobacco health warnings, and decreases the appeal of tobacco products,” said Dr Hitchman.

Further evidence that the rollout of plain packaging has been a success is the increase in support for the packaging. The report shows that just 28% of Australians supported standardised packaging before the legislation passed, but this has increased to 51% now. Support for plain packaging in the UK currently stands at 37%. 

In response to the 2012 packaging legislation, smoking rates in Australia have fallen sharply: the average number of cigarettes smoked per smoker has reduced, the average age a person is likely to consume their first full cigarette has jumped, and the overall number of smokers has fallen to 12.8% of the population, compared to 19% in the UK. Additionally, in an independent report commissioned by the UK government earlier in the year and carried out by Sir Cyril Chantler while at King’s College London, Chantler concluded that: “Having reviewed the evidence it is in my view highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking and implausible that it would increase the consumption of tobacco.”

The new report takes this sentiment a step further. “The evidence base for the effectiveness of standardised packaging of tobacco product is clear, and it should be implemented as soon as possible in the UK. Each day of delay costs lives,” Dr Hitchman said.

For further information contact Tom Bragg, Press Officer at IoPPN, King’s College London, on +44(0)2078485377 or email ioppn-pr@kcl.ac.uk

* © British Heart Foundation, 2015.  Reproduced with kind permission of the British Heart Foundation, a charity registered in England and Wales (reg. no 225971) and Scotland (reg. no SC039426).


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