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Plain cigarette packaging increases urgency to quit

07 Aug 2013


Minister for Health Dr James Reilly pictured at the recent launch of the Model of Care for Acute Surgery and the National Policy and Procedure for Safe Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Pic: Ray Lohan/RCSI

By Dara Gantly and Lloyd Mudiwa.

Plain packaging for cigarettes seems to make tobacco less appealing and increase the urgency to quit smoking, suggest early findings from Australia, published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Australia formally introduced plain brown packaging, accompanied by graphic health warnings taking up three-quarters of the front of the pack, for all tobacco products on December 1, 2012. So far, it is the only country in the world to have done so, although Ireland is set to become the second country, with legislation expected by early next year.

The researchers from Australia wanted to find out what effects the policy was having in the early stages, and whether it helped curb the appeal of tobacco.

They therefore interviewed 536 cigarette smokers in the Australian state of Victoria during November 2012 when plain packs were already available, in the run-up to, and immediately after, implementation of the legislation requiring all tobacco sold at retail outlets to be contained in plain packs.

Almost three-out-of-four (72.3 per cent) were smoking cigarettes from plain packs, while the remainder (27.7 per cent) were still using branded packs with smaller health warnings.

The smokers were asked whether they were as satisfied with their cigarettes as they were a year ago, and whether they felt the quality was the same. They were also asked how often they thought about the harms of smoking and about quitting, and if they approved of the plain pack policy. And they were asked if they thought the harms of smoking had been exaggerated.

The results of the study (BMJ Open 2013; 3:e003175.doi:10.1136/bmjopen -2013-003175) indicated that perception of exaggerated tobacco harm or the frequency with which smokers thought about the damage cigarettes might be doing to them differed little between the two groups. But plain pack smokers were 51 per cent more likely to back the plain pack policy than were brand pack smokers.

And compared with smokers still using brand packs, the plain pack smokers were 66 per cent more likely to think their cigarettes were poorer quality than a year ago. They were also 70 per cent more likely to say they found them less satisfying and 81 per cent more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day during the previous week and to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives than were smokers using brand packs.

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly welcomed publication of the study’s results. “Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, it is not acceptable to allow the tobacco industry to use deceptive marketing gimmicks to lure our children into this deadly addiction and to deceive current smokers about the impact of their addiction. Smoking places an enormous burden of illness and mortality on our society, with over 5,200 people dying every year from tobacco-related diseases — one-in-two of all smokers will die from their addiction.”

Last May, the Cabinet approved plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, which will remove most forms of branding, with Ireland now set to become only the second country in the world to do so after Australia.

Minister Reilly added: “The introduction of standardised packaging will remove the final way for tobacco companies to promote their deadly product in Ireland. Cigarette packets will no longer be a mobile advertisement for the tobacco industry.

“My Department has already started working on the new legislation. This legislation is a priority for me. I intend to bring the Heads of Bill to the Cabinet for approval early in the next Dáil term.”

dara.gantly@imt.ie

Date: 
7 August 2013

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times