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Larger cigarette warnings and plain packaging needed

Main entrance to the University at night

Friday 29 October 2010 9:23am

Young adult smokers between 18 and 30 are more likely to consider giving up cigarettes if branding on the front of packets is greatly reduced and graphic health warnings are significantly increased in size.

The University of Otago research is the first to estimate how plain packaging could influence young people’s behaviour. The findings suggest a combination of plain packaging and larger graphic health warnings would decrease the attractiveness of tobacco packaging and support quit attempts. This latest study on tobacco branding and health has been published in the leading international journal Tobacco Control.

The research, led by Professor Janet Hoek from the Department of Marketing, surveyed 292 young adult smokers, the demographic with the highest smoking prevalence in New Zealand.

The study presented young smokers with a variety of alternative cigarette packs, ranging from the status quo branding, with 30% of the front carrying a pictorial health warning, to a plain pack with a picture of smoking- related disease covering 75% of the pack front.

“The responses clearly show that as branding is reduced and health warnings increased in size, the product becomes increasingly less attractive to young adult smokers,” Professor Hoek says.

“Plain cigarette packs featuring large graphic health warnings are significantly more likely to promote smoking cessation than the heavily branded packs that are still the status quo.”

The results are consistent with other international studies that indicate brand imagery reassures young smokers and can over-ride health messages.

“Our findings provide strong evidence that branding should be reduced and graphic health warnings should be increased so they cover at least 75% of the front-of-pack surface. Where branding is larger than health warnings, the dissuasive effect of the latter is diminished.”

This research is of significant interest in New Zealand, since Australia intends to introduce legislation requiring plain packaging of cigarettes and larger health warnings by 2012. It reflects previous international research, which found cigarette packs promote aspirational brand imagery that influences smoking among young people.

Meanwhile Professor Hoek and colleagues from the University of Otago’s Department of Public Health have also published a second study in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation in which they examine the introduction of pictorial health warnings in NZ in 2008.

This study also concludes by calling for larger pictorial health warnings, which would have significantly more impact on smokers of all ages. “Larger warnings and plain packaging are keys to reducing smoking and New Zealand should follow Australia’s lead in introducing these policies.”

These actions would be consistent with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which New Zealand has ratified, and aims to remove all tobacco marketing.

These studies were funded by the Heart Foundation of New Zealand and the Health Research Council.

For further information contact

Professor Janet Hoek
Department of Marketing
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7692

Website: Department of Marketing

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