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Standardised cigarette packs are deterring teenagers from smoking

14 studies show Australia packaging laws are having impact

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 20 March 2015

Teenagers are being put off smoking by the introduction of standardised packaging in Australia, according to several new studies published in the journal Tobacco Control.

The journal has published a series of papers* in which various researchers detailed their studies and surveys of thousands of Australians carried out before and after the introduction of plain packaging in December 2012.

In introducing standardised tobacco packaging with large graphic health warnings, the Australian government’s main aim was to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to young people in order to reduce the likelihood of them taking up smoking.

Ireland has recently voted to introduce similar legislation, as has the UK, which means standardised packaging for tobacco products will be introduced in the UK from May 2016.

One piece of research from the 14 papers found that a year after being introduced, standardised packaging prompted more smokers to think about quitting and to attempt to quit.

Key findings from some of the new studies included:

  • school children aged 12–17 years found standardised packaging less appealing
  • smokers were more likely to conceal their packs from view in outdoor venues after the introduction of standardised packaging
  • although there was a shift to value brands following the introduction of standardised packaging, retail prices for cigarettes actually increased across the board
  • the percentage of smokers purchasing cigarettes from convenience stores did not fall after standardised packs were introduced and there was no indication of an increase in overseas, online or duty-free purchases
  • there was no evidence of an increase in the consumption of illicit cigarettes following the introduction of standardised packaging. 

In one study, researchers from Victoria, Melbourne, found that standardised packaging did reduce the appeal of tobacco products to both young people and adult smokers, but this study focused on the impact on adult smokers.

Between April 2012 and December 2013, the researchers surveyed more than 5,000 adult smokers (aged 18–69 years) by telephone and followed them up approximately one month later.

They split the smokers into four groups according to when they were surveyed at follow-up: in the couple of months before implementation of standardised packaging; just as the new standardised packaging was being introduced; later in the introductory period; and after standardised packaging was fully implemented.

Smokers surveyed as standardised packaging was being implemented were most likely to report that they intended to try to quit smoking in the next month (odds ratio 1.42, when compared with smokers at the very start of the study).

Also when compared to the smokers who completed the surveys before standardised packaging was introduced, those surveyed in the first year of the new packs were more likely to conceal their packs from view (odds ratio 1.65), stub out their cigarette prematurely (odds ratio 1.55) and attempt to quit (odds ratio 1.52).

The authors said that their findings “provide some of the strongest evidence to date” that standardised packaging with larger graphic health warnings are associated with increased rates of thinking about quitting and attempting to quit amongst adult smokers.

* Gerard B Hastings, et al. Death of a salesman. Tob Control 2015;24:ii1-ii2 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2015-052285

Victoria White, et al. Has the introduction of plain packaging with larger graphic health warnings changed adolescents’ perceptions of cigarette packs and brands? Tob Control 2015;24:ii42-ii49 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-052084

Michelle Scollo, et al. Did smokers shift from small mixed businesses to discount outlets following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia? A national cross-sectional survey. Tob Control 2015;24:ii98-ii100 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-052199

Michelle Scollo, et al. Use of illicit tobacco following introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products in Australia: results from a national cross-sectional survey. Tob Control 2015;24:ii76-ii81 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-052072

Sarah Durkin, et al. Short-term changes in quitting-related cognitions and behaviours after the implementation of plain packaging with larger health warnings: findings from a national cohort study with Australian adult smokers. Tob Control 2015;24:ii26-ii32 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-052058

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