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“Slick” cigarette packaging encourages children to smoke, UK charity says

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e3030 (Published 26 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3030
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. 1London

A cancer charity has launched a campaign for plain packaging on cigarettes warning how the tobacco industry is using branding techniques to lure the next generation of smokers.

Cancer Research UK released a film to highlight the “shocking impact” on children of tobacco companies’ “slick” marketing methods.

It shows that children, aged six to 11, describing their attraction to brightly coloured cigarette packs, which they associate with “nice” things, fun, and happiness.

The charity also published a report looking at the use of packaging by the tobacco industry as a marketing tool with an analysis of how teenagers respond to it.

It said there was a clear impact on teenage girls of branding developed to target women by indicating femininity, style, and sophistication.

Under the Answer is Plain campaign, the charity is asking people to sign a petition to remove all branding from tobacco packaging.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said it was “chilling” how powerful tobacco marketing could be and how the shape, size, and colour of cigarette packs influenced perceptions.

“Children are drawn to the colourful and slick designs without having a full understanding of how deadly the product is inside the pack,” she said, adding that “wrong associations” are made that light colours mean the product is less harmful.

The Department of Health is running a consultation until 10 July on the future of tobacco packaging.

Sarah Woolnough, cancer Research UK’s director of public affairs, said she hoped the government would take a lead and legislate in this parliament to ban branding on cigarette packets.

The charity’s report, The Packaging of Tobacco Products, includes a review of tobacco industry documents over 50 years.

Jean King said these showed how important packaging had become to companies as a direct way of building a relationship with consumers by planting particular emotional associations and attracting new smokers.

The report says packs developed to appeal to women are often long and slender, with pale or pastel colours “indicating femininity, style, sophistication, and attractiveness.”

In the charity’s focus group research involving 15 year olds, girls preferred slim “perfume-shaped” packs whereas boys preferred “slide” packs which to them suggested maturity, popularity, and confidence.

The research also looked at young people’s perceptions of plain, brown packaging favoured by the charity, which was seen as unattractive and enforced negative attitudes to smoking.

Robert West, the charity’s director of tobacco research at University College London, said, “Tobacco companies know packaging is important to make their products attractive. They use pack imagery to attract people to products that are addictive and lethal.”

He said even if plain packaging had only a small effect on making smoking appear less attractive it would still result in many fewer preventable deaths.

“Plain packaging is not about punishing smokers but removing an opportunity for tobacco companies to make their products look attractive,” West said.

Sarah Woolnough said tobacco firms’ claims that the measure would lead to increased smuggling of cigarettes were “not credible” because plain packets could still carry covert markings.

She said the resistance was unsurprising, adding that “plain packaging is closing the last marketing loophole the tobacco industry has.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3030