Plain packaging: do smokers care?

From December 2012, cigarettes in Australia will be sold in plain, khaki-coloured packaging. Illustration by Vectorportal/flickr.



If you’re one to read the news, you’ve probably noticed that the hot topic of the day is the removing of branding from a packet. That’s right, I’m referring to the plain packaging for cigarette packets. Now seriously, they have done “studies” that show people will be more likely to to quit smoking if they don’t have a logo on the packet. Apparently we are more likely to hide the packet if it’s olive green. I laughed so hard when I heard this news. Today I took the subject to the street (well, my work place and social media). The most frequent comments were: “who cares?” and “how would a plain package make you stop smoking, isn’t it the cigarette itself that’s addictive?” And I for one agree. Taking away a logo from a cigarette package makes just about as much sense as forcing drug dealers to not stamp a picture on ecstasy pills so people don’t feel like getting high any more.Or not allowing an electronics company to brand their TV so kids are forced to go outside and play. Maybe w eshould try removing the branding from fridges so our obese society loses weight.

Today the Australian Government are waving their “we did something” flag very high, as they announce their victory in the High Court against tobacco companies. They’re now pushing the message through the media that other countries should follow their lead. Not to mention that this is an opportunity to portray the tobacco companies as evil corporations. Please show me a good corporation. Tobacco companies have been banned from sponsoring sporting events, advertising in magazines, or on television and public billboards. They’ve been forced to slap horrific images of people in some hardcore make-upon cigarette packs, making gangrene look more like frost bite. Then we forced corner shops to close the shutters on the cabinets containing cigarettes so people can’t make any new decisions about which brand of coffin nail they wish to burn and destroy their soul with. The right to branding was revoked. So have all these measures really stopped people from smoking? Back in 1945, 75% of males and 26% of females smoked. In 2010 statistics showed that the number had declined to 16.4% for males and 13.9% for females. But what about young smokers? After all, isn’t this new law about the children? Well, a 2008 a survey shows that teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 make up a high percentage of smokers: 6.9% of males and 7.7% of females smoke. It’s possible that plain packaging just reduce the number of female smokers, as most men simply don’t care about branding. Only time will tell.

On another side, this is a very good day for many underground businesses. They no longer have to try to forge the logo of a tobacco company. It’s easier than ever for people to push their illegal product into legitimate corner shops direct from the truck. Apparently the black market for cigarettes tripled last year and I’m not surprised, with pricing being pushed up and up. I remember a time when you could buy a packet of 30s for $6. Now a packet of 25s costs $16. All in just 10 years.

So with all that said, I still stand by my comment that in the long run, nobody will care what the packet looks like. This has been said before with the disease pictures, and before that it was the big block text. Maybe this time the “three strikes and you’re out” rule will come into play.



This article was picked up by the BBC and Nick spoke on radio about the subject. You can listen here:

2 Replies to “Plain packaging: do smokers care?

  1. No butts about it, Nick has raised some really interesting points….However
    while a small office study on adults already hooked on nicotine may yield these opinions, a quantitative study of teenagers may show girls particularly could well be sucked into the seductive vortex of smoking, via glitzy, glossy packing.
    Women glamorise smoking more than men.
    In years past, whether it was Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson or Uma Thurman pursing their lips to a cigarette – it was always invariably lit by a damned handsome stranger!
    Women are also more at risk than men from smoking, for many reasons.
    Firstly, they’re twice as likely to die from a smoking related heart attack because their heart vessels are smaller and their bodies less able to deal with the onslaught of the 400 toxic chemicals in ciggies, including ammonia used in floor cleaners and hydrogen cyanide used in the gas chambers. Secondly because they smoke more, light, menthol or “slim” cigarettes, the gals may think they are inhaling less tar, but in fact are inhaling more deeply to compensate for the lower levels of nicotine……
    So perhaps “nappy brown generic packaging” might make types of “female” cigarettes less targeted as well?
    We also need to remember that lung cancer kills more women than breast cancer now – historically, this has never happened before.
    Yet lung cancer, because it is not perceived as a “sexy cancer” rarely gets a guernsey…still them’s the facts.
    As a former smoker, I certainly do think twice about lighting up when looking at a gangrenous leg or a scary warning…so if the ciggie companies are fronting the bill (are they?) for plain paper packaging, then surely it can’t hurt….
    Cheers, Jane CERT III

  2. I agree with Jane (and Nick) that plain packaging is probably aimed more at image-conscious young women who have yet to become hooked. I suspect that anyone who’s already addicted won’t give a rat’s whether their fags come in cardboard or silk wrapping, they’ll still smoke. True addiction to cigarettes is stronger than love. Which is exactly what cigarette companies trade on – that terrible, terrible addiction and inability to stop.

    But if all the measures we’ve taken so far result in ever-dwindling numbers of people who start smoking, then that’s a good thing. Smoking isn’t cool. It stinks, it makes your face grey, and eventually it kills you.

    I was a smoker. I loved smoking. I still like people who smoke – there’s a certain personality type; smokers are fun, usually. But you can’t ignore the evidence.

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