A world-first study led by Australian researchers has blown the lid on the tobacco industry myth that cigarette pack displays in the retail environment are harmless.
The study, to be published online next week in the international journal Addiction, found those trying to quit or cut down smoking commonly experience urges to purchase cigarettes when confronted with cigarette pack displays in retail stores.
The findings have prompted health groups to call on governments - both in Australia and abroad - to make removing cigarette pack displays from sight in the retail environment an urgent public health priority.
Led by Professor Melanie Wakefield at The Cancer Council Victoria, the study aimed to assess the extent to which cigarette pack displays in retail stories stimulate impulse purchases of cigarettes. The study was a telephone-administered population survey of 2996 adults, among whom 526 smoked factory-made cigarettes and 67 were recent quitters (quit in the past 12 months).
Professor Wakefield said the tobacco industry's increasing reliance on cigarette pack displays is a marketing ploy to create maximum stand-out of cigarette packs, with cigarette pack displays in most convenience stores, petrol stations and supermarkets positioned near the cash register for the greatest impact.
"The importance to the tobacco industry of cigarette pack displays in the retail environment has gained in recent years, as traditional electronic, billboard and print forms of tobacco marketing are restricted."
"Far from being a benign marketing practice, our study illustrates that cigarette pack displays in retail stores do trigger impulse buying of cigarette among in smokers, even those who are trying to quit, every time they visit a store."
"In addition, the tobacco industry marketing tactic of creating colour-coordinated power walls of cigarettes at the point-of-sale may also tempt recent quitters to relapse."
"More than half of long-term smokers will end up dying of a smoking caused-disease, so in light of these findings we urge all jurisdictions to develop legislation to remove tobacco displays from sight in retail stores."
Key findings of the study include:
- Thirty-eight per cent of smokers who had tried to quit in the past 12 months and 34% of recent quitters experienced an urge to buy cigarettes as a result of seeing the retail cigarette display.
- Among the smokers who had tried to quit in the past 12 months and experienced an urge to buy cigarettes when seeing the cigarette display, 61% bought cigarettes, even though they were trying to quit.
- When shopping for items other than cigarettes, 25.2% of smokers purchased cigarettes at least sometimes on impulse as a result of seeing the cigarette display.
- One in five smokers trying to quit and one in eight recent quitters avoided stores where they usually bought cigarettes in case they might be tempted to purchase them.
CEO of the Heart Foundation (Victoria), Ms Kathy Bell, noted that over 30% per cent of all smokers agreed or strongly agreed that removing cigarette pack displays from view in stores would make it easier for them to quit.
"Smoking is a key contributor to the risk of cardiovascular disease. Removing cigarette pack displays from sight offers an opportunity to support smokers in an attempt to quit, and this will translate into better health outcomes for the whole community.
"Knowing cigarette pack displays are a powerful cue underlines the urgency in developing effective regulations to prevent the tobacco industry from displaying their products."
"People around the globe should see this study as a convincing argument to stop the tobacco industry from marketing in this way because, for the first time, we have research clearly showing that cigarette pack displays function to undermine quitting intentions and behaviour among established smokers."
Executive Director of Quit, Ms Fiona Sharkie, predicted the study would have an explosive international effect, especially given the reliance on the tobacco industry of using cigarette displays as a lure for new smokers.
"Any tobacco industry method of perpetuating tobacco use among young people is a cause for very real concern and this study has revealed that young adult smokers are more likely to notice cigarette displays and tended to be more likely to purchase on impulse."
Ms Sharkie said removing tobacco displays from the point-of-sale environment would ease the regulatory burden for tobacco retailers.
"Removing cigarette displays from point-of-sale in not about making life hard for retailers. In fact it will simplify the regulatory process, and ensure that there is a level playing field."
Professor Melanie Wakefield, Kathy Bell and Fiona Sharkie are all available for comment.
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