Researchers at the University of Surrey are encouraging the UK government to follow in the footsteps of Australia, which is the first country to introduce compulsory plain packaging for tobacco products.
Approximately 100,000 people die of a smoking-related illness every year in the UK. In 2012 the UK government launched a consultation on the introduction of plain packaging, which met with high level of public support. However, ministers are yet to make a decision on the final move. Health campaigners are now urging the UK government to stop stalling and introduce plain packaging as soon as possible as any delay will cost lives as it is argued that the sale of cigarettes in unbranded packs should make tobacco less appealing and encourage smokers to quit. The tobacco companies argue that their branded packages are not advertising their products.
Professor Jane Ogden and Michaela Dewe from the University of Surrey’s Psychology Department explored changes in advertising since 1950 in the UK and the strategies used by tobacco companies to promote their products, with a focus on the use of the box and the meanings associated with smoking.
As part of the study forty UK print advertisements from each decade (1950s-2000s) were selected from an archive that contained 1500 tobacco advertisements using a random number generator.
The findings from the study indicate the tobacco companies increasingly used the cigarette box in their advertising particularly as policies to limit their advertising were being introduced. Results also showed that the cigarette box has become iconic to each manufacturer and remains a vehicle for advertising and an object through which smokers express their identity; without realising it smokers have become walking adverts for the brand they smoke.
Professor Ogden, comments, “The results in our study were very revealing. The box cannot be considered a neutral object that has no impact on consumer choices which provides evidence in support of the call for compulsory plain packaging. In fact the box is itself a form of branded packaging that is oriented towards persuading smokers to purchase cigarettes.”
“Other studies have found that the introduction of plain packaging has resulted in smokers perceiving their cigarettes as less satisfying and of lower quality than previously. It is hoped that the introduction of plain packaging would significantly reduce smoking behaviour.”