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Plain packaging increases urgency to quit and lowers appeal of smoking, new research reveals

Monday 22 July, 2013

Plain packaged cigarettes with larger health warnings increase smokers' urgency to quit and lower the appeal of smoking, the first research paper into its effects has revealed. 

The Cancer Council Victoria research, published in the BMJ Open journal today, surveyed more than 500 smokers during the roll-out phase of the legislation late last year.

Of those smokers, 72.3% were smoking from a plain pack with the larger health warnings covering 75% of the front of the pack and 27.7% were still smoking from a branded pack with the old 30% front-of-pack health warnings.

The Introduction effects of Australian plain packaging policy on adult smokers: a cross sectional study paper found:

Compared to smokers smoking from branded packs, smokers with plain packs were more likely to perceive their tobacco as being lower in both quality and in satisfaction, to think about and prioritise quitting and to support the plain packaging policy.

Those smoking from branded packs were more likely to perceive the appeal of their cigarettes as lower as the legislation was rolled out more fully over time and they were increasingly surrounded by more smokers with plain packs.

Quit Victoria Acting Executive Director Kylie Lindorff said plain packaging was intended to reduce the appeal of smoking, strengthen the impact of graphic health warnings and reduce tobacco industry deception about the harmfulness of cigarettes.

"These early signs show that plain packaging is reducing the enjoyment of smoking because the packs are less visually appealing," she said.

"The larger graphic health warnings, which now cover almost the entire front of the pack, make it almost impossible for smokers to ignore the devastating harms of smoking. The promise of what is to come for 1 in 2 long term smokers is pictured on the pack."

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said the research was consistent with many past experimental studies undertaken in countries yet to implement plain packaging.

"This research adds even more weight to the importance of plain packaging and should provide another strong incentive for other countries around the world to follow Australia's lead and introduce this important health reform," he said.

Professor Melanie Wakefield, Director of the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, said that given Australia was the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging, the study provided an early investigation of its actual effects on smokers in a market where plain packs are available to all.

"This is compared with past studies that have experimentally exposed smokers to a single viewing of a plain or branded pack which may or may not have been their own brand," she said.

"While further research is needed to assess the long-term effects on smokers as well as effects on youth, the introductory effects we observed are consistent with the broad objectives of the legislation."