Study finds that cigarette packaging influences teens to buy and try

Plain cigarette packages, perceived as boring or unattractive, would make smoking much less appealing to teens, according to a new Australian study.
Even before adolescents try smoking, they have preconceived ideas about what smoking is like. They often glean these images from the appeal of a cigarette pack. Colours, images, logos and font sizes all play a part in increasing teens’ susceptibility to future tobacco use.
“We found that when branding is progressively removed from a cigarette pack, adolescents not only perceive the packs to be less attractive, they associate the brand with people who have less favorable attributes. They also assume the cigarettes have a more negative taste,” said study co-author Melanie Wakefield, Ph.D.
Wakefield is director of the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer of the Cancer Council Victoria. The study appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The researchers asked parents of teens between age 14 and 17 if they would allow their children to participate in an online survey about cigarette packaging. Parents were told the survey results would help guide Australia’s tobacco control policies.
Using three popular Australian cigarette brands, the researchers looked at how adolescents perceived cigarette packs and what their expectations were about cigarette taste. The packs showed a gradual diminishment of brand information on the front and a progressively larger-sized health warning. Researchers randomly assigned each teen to rate one of 15 pack conditions.
“Although plain packs are perceived to be unattractive, we found that increasing the size of the health warning on the front further reduces the pack’s appeal,” Wakefield said. “This also includes teens who had already experienced smoking and are most likely to go on to a lifetime of regular smoking,”
“This is an important paper because it shows that graphical warning labels and plain packaging make a real difference in how adolescents perceive smoking and cigarettes,” said Stanton Glantz, Ph.D., director at the University of California-San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research.
“The study points to the need for the FDA to act quickly to impose strong, effective graphical warnings and plain packaging in the U.S. It also shows that we can expect the tobacco companies to fight effective action tooth and nail,” Glantz said.
Wakefield agreed: “If parents supported moves to strip as much branding off cigarette packs as possible, that one element of marketing that makes smoking attractive could be reduced.”
Source: Health Behaviour News Service, 09 November 2009