Plain cigarette packs spur quitline calls: study

NEW YORK Thu Feb 13, 2014 2:34pm EST

Near empty cigarette shelves are seen at a CVS store in New York February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Near empty cigarette shelves are seen at a CVS store in New York February 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Drab olive cigarette packs bearing a prominent quit-smoking helpline number, introduced more than a year ago in Australia, had a sizeable and sustained effect on interest in quitting, researchers say.

Just one of many controls imposed on cigarette marketing and sales over the past decade in that country, the plain packaging was linked to a 78-percent spike in calls to territorial quitlines within a month of its introduction.

"The results suggest the legislation does have a positive early impact (on smokers) and so other countries could feel more confident in introducing similar legislation," said Jane Young, a cancer epidemiologist at the Sydney School of Public Health, who led the study.

The plain packages, implemented in October 2012, mean that every brand's cigarettes look nearly identical, with the brand name relegated to a small, standardized font.

In March 2006, cigarette packaging with graphic health warnings including photos of cancer-riddled lungs and gangrenous limbs was introduced in Australia.

"(The labels) inform consumers about what might happen to them when they use the product," said Joanna Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.

"The plain and standardized packaging is meant to reduce the appeal of the package and show the warning. Hopefully current smokers will quit because they are more aware of the health impacts, and fewer people will start," said Cohen, who was not involved in the new study.

Young's team wanted to isolate the impact of just the switch to plain packaging on interest in quitting.

They looked at the number of calls in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to the national quitline before and after introduction of the plain packages.

Calls jumped from 363 a week before the packaging change to a peak of 651 calls a week four weeks after the new packages were introduced, Young and her colleagues report in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The study also compared those results to the number of calls received by the Quitline after Australia's addition of graphic warning labels. That change was linked with a jump from 910 calls a week to a peak of 1,653 calls 12 weeks afterwards, representing an 84 percent increase.

The effect of the graphic warnings only lasted an estimated 20 weeks, however, whereas the researchers estimate the effect of plain packaging to have endured 43 weeks.

They also adjusted their results for other potential influences on interest in quitting smoking, such as cigarette pricing, limits on smoking in public and on the display of cigarettes at points of sale, as well as the New Year's resolution effect.

Between 2006 and 2011, Young's team notes, smoking rates in New South Wales had already dropped from 17.7 percent of residents to 14.7 percent.

Australia is the only country that has implemented the plain packaging thus far, but public health experts say others likely will - and should - adopt the policy.

"Anything that we can do to better communicate that the product is deadly is a good thing," Cohen said.

Britain announced late last year that plain tobacco packaging was under review, with the option of mandating the packaging change if evidence showed it would cut down on smoking. The European Union has also moved to institute graphic health warnings on cigarettes and measures to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Changing cigarette packaging can take years, often because it means squaring off in a legal battle with cigarette companies.

"Many countries are in line to follow with the plain and standardized packaging once the legal issues get resolved," Cohen said.

SOURCE: The Medical Journal of Australia, online January 13, 2014.

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Comments (4)
riposte wrote:
hmmm… a plain package with a number on it….verses a package, with the disgusting pictures, of what smoking does to you, in your face… the results are in favor of the plain package?????????????I think, you should change the picture, to something even more advanced and be very suspicious of the results stated by this study…doesn’t anything spike for a day or two, when something is newly introduced??? could be, tobacco companies, are behind the scenes, meddling again…press.. take a deep look….

Feb 15, 2014 8:50am EST  --  Report as abuse
Take it from a retired industry insider with 3 decades of experience. Marketing is everything. Phillip Morris (Altria) won huge years ago when the Masters Settlement was agreed to by the states. Thus began serious limits on tobacco advertising and promotion. This solidified Marlboro as the #1 US brand and shut off any chance of a competitive challenge. You cannot challenge the #1 product if you cannot advertise. PM supported the Masters Settlement Agreement thus giving itself an extra 15 years or so as the unchallenged king of the hill. Other major manufacturers signed onto the settlement in order to prevent being litigated out of existence.

I don’t believe that grotesque photos on cigarette packs are practical. Smokers can just take cigarettes out of the package and place them in a cigarette case. People know the dangers. What WILL work over time is the elimination of advertising and promotion. Without that any consumer product company is pretty much doomed.

Like it or not there were many extremely skilled product development and marketing people employed in the industry. Since 1998 when Masters was signed most of those people have retired or moved on to other industries. Tobacco is still a money maker worldwide but the handwriting is on the wall.

Feb 15, 2014 11:13am EST  --  Report as abuse
PaulBradley wrote:
@Missinginaction wrote: “Marketing is everything.”

How true!! What you didn’t mention is the fact that product marketing could be done many ways, including through ‘negative’ promotion/advertising. Since a ‘coin has two sides’, marketing utilizes one side, the other side or both, whichever is working best for a specific company or a given product. “Politically correct” targeted marketing of a given product is usually one of the key elements during marketing decision-making.

In case of quitting smoking – nicotine transdermal patches, nicotine chewing gum, electronic cigarettes, etc., are promoted as items that “helps you quit smoking” – the evil habit. However, the public is not supposed to know that these ‘quit-smoking” products do absolutely nothing to help an individual quit smoking at all with the exception that, in some cases, they have an effect of a ‘placebo’ where person’s believe that the product will help does affect the individual’s behavior – i.e. power of suggestion through well targeted promotion/advertising while taking advantage of false-based medias’ human mind’s insemination.

Some of the unknown facts, in reference to the above, are simply conveniently not mentioned to the general public, one of them being that Nicotine is NOT addictive.
And, is NOT the “evil” chemical present in tobacco. On the contrary, Nicotine, based on scientific findings, is effective drug for relieving or preventing a variety of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Tourette’s and schizophrenia. It might even improve attention and focus enough to qualify as a cognitive enhancer. And, oh yeah, it’s long been associated with weight loss, with few known safety risks. Nicotine? YES NICOTINE!

Feb 15, 2014 2:20pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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