/ Health, Shopping

Will branded cigarette packets go up in smoke?

Plain cigarette packet against red background

As a non-smoker it’s difficult for me to know what might put me off smoking. As Australia implements its ban on branded cigarette packing I’m intrigued to know if this approach would ever get adopted in the UK.

As much as I’d like to say I’m not influenced by brand I have a few firm favourites – particularly when it comes to food and toiletries.

I’m more than happy to buy my supermarket or pharmacist’s own-brand goods, but I have to confess I do like to see a small amount of thought go into the layout and packaging. I don’t mind it being minimal, I guess I just like it uniformed.

Branded cigarettes – pack it in

I’ve been trying to put myself into a smoker’s shoes and wondered how I’d feel if my cigarettes were devoid of branding. If I were addicted to smoking I imagine it would take something more personal to put me off. But might it prevent me from lighting up that first cigarette?

I remember watching a poignant video from Cancer Research earlier this year. If you’ve not seen it yet I’ll let you watch it below before I go any further:

Whatever your view on the topic, I’m sure you probably found the above shocking. I’ve never quite seen the appeal of cigarette packaging as an adult, but it appears to be very appealing to the children in this video.

Cancer Research UK has had nearly 80,000 people email their MP on the issue, which prompted the Department of Health to consult on cigarette packaging in the summer of 2012. The charity is hoping to get Parliament to vote in favour of plain packaging in 2013 after 63% of people said they’d like to get rid of colourful and slickly designed cigarette packets.

So, if the vote were down to you, would you vote in favour of plain packaging?

Would you like to strip cigarette packets of their branding?

Yes (68%, 215 Votes)

No (16%, 51 Votes)

I don’t have a strong view (16%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 316

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I don’t think that plain packaging somehow generally reducing cigarette consumption is in any doubt. We only have to look at other products (eg dolls, perfume and lager) to see what effect packaging has on the gullible, including the young and not yet wise. What we don’t know is in what proportion and in what way consumption is reduced, including how many it prevents from taking up smoking at all, and how many it leads to stop altogether. But anything that has even the slightest effect is surely worth a shot, isn’t it?

As a long-ago smoker (gave up when I married Mrs R – a good move) I had favourite brands – the packaging didn’t influence me. So plain packs would not have affected me I don’t think. Hiding tobacco behind covers would also not have deterred me. It is an addiction that is hard to combat.

I suspect people start smoking from being with smokers and trying one – a social thing. The reasons I gave up were the cash and the health issues – particularly the latter. Anyone with common sense should not start the habit – but then we are all frail and use nicotine, drugs, excessive alcohol, for reasons that defy logic (unless you are determined to gradually harm yourself ).

I think pushing the self-harm issue should be the more effective deterrent, including at the point of sale. Logically, tobacco should be banned, as should drugs, as they only cause harm. But we don’t want to be done good to, do we?

Peter W says:
4 December 2012

I think it is important to consider this in light of the new types of cigarette packs that have been introduced where I live in northern England. In our shops now we have packs that seem clearly aimed at kids, and young girls in particular. The cigarettes are very thin, and have names like ‘perle’, ‘slim’ and ‘superslim’ and they come in beautiful packs the size of lipstick boxes.

Whilst I wouldn’t expect kids to be attracted by some of the older, bland packs, my kids’ friends share details on where to buy blingy hologram packs of one brand on Facebook.

I think it is a great time to follow the lead of the Aussies and do this before the new types of slim cigarette get another generation of susceptible kids hooked on the habit.

Peter W says:
5 December 2012

I hope posting this link doesn’t contravene the guidelines, but there’s an image of one of the brands aimed at the female market here. Draw your own conclusions about whether this would attract young girls to smoke.

Smokers seem oblivious to the health warning notices on packets, so I’m not convinced that plain packaging will make a difference, but it cannot do any harm to try. I have sympathy with smokers because it is an addiction.

Plain packaging will help to identify illegally imported cigarettes, and I see this as a positive move.

Alan says:
5 December 2012

As a retired senior Customs Officer may I point out that unless the packaging bears a clear and unique set of manufacturers identity security markings, the illicit fake (even more fatal) market will get totally out of control.
Whilst I can empathisewith the health lobby in trying to drastically reduce consumption, the smuggling of very dangerous fake cigarettes will, in my submission, be an even greater health hazard.

Peter says:
5 December 2012

Alan, I have several colleagues who work in Trading Standards, and cooperate with HMRC in tackling smuggled and fake cigarettes.

Perhaps when you were working in HMRC in the past the counterfeiters were less sohisticated, but, unfortunately, the reality now is that the smugglers can already produce a perfect replica of a branded pack. The move to a standardised pack, as they have introduced in Australia, will make no difference at all to the criminals behind the illegal tobacco trade, and will make no difference at all to HMRC and Trading Standards detection, which has not relied on being able to visually distinguish fake packs for sevral years now.

The other current reality is that the fake cigarettes nowadays aren’t as different to legal ones as they were perhaps five or ten years ago. The illegal trade is now supplied with proper tobacco, possibly by some legitimate tobacco growers.

What my colleagues in Trading Standards do find is that the fakes are frequently short weight, so people might pay half the price on the black market, but they’re only getting 50-60% of the tobacco they’d get in a legitimate pack.

Nick L says:
5 December 2012

I doubt this is about smokers, but more about prevention. Everything known about the psychology of brands by large manufacturers shows how important the brand is above all. The argument of the tobacco companies that brands don’t make smoking more attractive does not hold water. Imagine how daft it would sound if Lego or Fisher Price claimed the boxes on their toys don’t attract kids???
Having said that, I used to smoke, and kidded myself that if I smoked a white brand (the former low tars) I was doing the next best thing to quitting, That has been exposed as a lie and the tobacco companies banned from promoting cigarettes as low tar, but the colours are still out there doing that job.
When you’re a smoker, you seek every opportunity to kid yourself you’re minimising the harm and the health messages don’t mean you.

Richard F says:
5 December 2012

Young people are attracted by brands on a whole range of products, particularly those such as clothing or food, that relate to a lifestyle, to claim that branding on tobacco products is the only case where this does not apply is entirely wrong. Cigarette packets are the last piece of advertising the industry have readily available, if branding had no impact the industry would not spend millions on new packaging and designs, standardised packaging ensures that the health warnings are prominent and take away any ‘glamour’ from this highly dangerous product

David Collins says:
5 December 2012

As a Police officer, I worked on a number of occasions with Customs officers. I never saw anyone attempting to smuggle anything that wasn’t “plain packed”. Smuggled goods don’t come in through ports of entry in suitcases or containers with ” smuggled from…” Printed on them. Once in the country having evaded customs, specialist trading standards officers who were trained in spotting the fake goods used their skills to provide the intelligence that led to arrests. My understanding is that trading standards are the main supplier of intelligence of point of sale good and they appear to back the proposed system. The whole “It will help counterfeiting/ smuggling” myth is one red herring this old copper is not falling for.

Kevin Earley says:
7 December 2012

The issue is simple if the branding and package design did not work then the companies would not spend money on doing it: If your product helps to kill your customers you have to work harder to get more customers
Taking the cigarettes from view in shop displays is another way to move smoking away from being perceived as acceptable. The pressures on the health service will only continue to mount with the demographics of the baby boomers and so on , we surely have to do all we can to reduce the toll taken by this dreadful industry for the individuals concerned and the health of the nation

Whilst plain packaging is not a cure all for stop smoking campaigns, it is an essential tool in the box. It has been a long journey but we are winning the battle against smoking and this will take us one step closer and, more importantly, protect our young people from adverse advertising influences.

Cameron says:
14 December 2012

I don’t think this modern approach of banning this and banning that really helps. Banning smoking from enclosed spaces means that when people – including children – walk round town they see a lot more people smoking and breath in a lot more smoke. Hiding things behind screen and making plain packaging adds sence of mystery and might make inquisitive children want to find out what it’s all about. Think about how many young people want to experiment with drugs – which are hidden, but how many want to experiment with tinned soup – which is displayed in many shops. Tinned soup is not exciting, drugs, alcohol, gambling and tabacco might be.

If young people are influenced by idols such as pop stars and sports stars, why not engage those in anti smoking adverts.

William France says:
19 December 2012

I was wondering if advertising from undertakers and crematoria on the packet might be more effective at making people think what they are doing to themselves.

if the health industry and the goverment were serious about stopping smoking why not ban them completly in the UK!
there is very few plants in the uk supplying the raw product, the cost to the NHS far outstrips any gains from taxes now, and you could tell who is smoking by the smell so enforcable.
but does the NHS realise its advertising is paid for from revenue gained from tobbacco sales! so could not advertise without smokers!