I imagine that most of you will agree with me that this is great news.
Why we even entertain the tobacco companies’ opinion on the matter of banning cigarette displays is beyond me, after all, tobacco companies admitted to lying for years about the dangers of smoking. They knowingly promote an extremely addictive product that kills half of its users. As Samuel L Jackson would say:
This news follows on from Australia’s plain packaging cigarette policy, which came into force this December. Basically, all cigarettes sold in Australia now come in olive green packaging, with little to distinguish between the brands apart from the name and the variant. Encouragingly, British MP’s are calling for the introduction of similar policies in the UK.
Naturally, the tobacco industry has come up with several arguments against plain packaging rules, and have responded to the plain packaging legislation by accusing the government of becoming a Nanny state.
They would say that though. After all, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
Contrary to what the tobacco companies would have you believe, a causal effect between exposure to tobacco promotion and the initiation of tobacco use in children has been established (DiFranza et al., 2006). Morgenstern, Isensee, and Hanewinkel (2013) also found evidence that mere exposure to cigarette advert is all that is needed to enhance a young adolescent’s attitude towards it. This ‘mere exposure’ effect is an implicit process and does not require one to consciously attend to the stimuli (Gordon & Holyoak, 1983).
Clearly, children are influenced by exposure to cigarette packaging, which irrefutably supports a global movement towards plain packaging – the less exposure they have to brand information, the better. This is important, because in the UK and the US, most adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 18.
Neuroscience research highlights the negative impact that starting smoking in adolescence can have on the development of the adult human brain. Galvan et al. (2011) compared late adolescent smokers (15-21) with non-smokers (16-21), and found that the more addicted the teenage smokers were to nicotine, the less activity they showed in their prefrontal cortex.
This area has been implicated in decision-making and cognitive control, and it continues to develop throughout late adolescence. The researchers suggest that smoking may consequently influence how this region of the brain develops, which may have long-term consequences for the individual’s decision making ability – which may make them more likely to continue smoking through adulthood.
Ignore what the tobacco companies are saying. They know how important packaging is in marketing. A report from a former vice president of marketing for Imperial Tobacco asserted that:
“one of every two smokers is not able to distinguish in blind (masked) tests between similar cigarettes …for most smokers and the decisive group of new, younger smokers, the consumer’s choice is dictated more by psychological, image factors than by relatively minor differences in smoking characteristics.” (p. 5)
A myriad of factors can influence a smokers perception of a brand. For example, smokers concerned with the health risks of cigarettes are more likely to choose white packaging (Bansal-Travers et al., 2011a). The new olive green packs prevent tobacco companies from preying on this misconception.
Of course, the companies are finding ways to push their brands onto smokers despite these packaging laws. For example, in the absence of colourful packaging, they have begun using verbal imagery to distinguish their brands, with varieties such as “sea green menthol” and “smooth amber”, “crush blue”. Like colour, different words can also change people’s perceptions of the health risks of cigarettes, with words like “light”, “silver” and “smooth” perceived as delivering less tar and a lower health risk compared to other descriptions (Bansal-Travers et al., 2011b).
As McLure et al. (2004) demonstrated when they researched consumer preferences for Coca Cola and Pepsi, brand information can have a dramatic impact on behavioural preferences and on brain responses in consumers. Many smokers show strong brand preference and loyalty, and given that nicotine and sugar both activate the reward circuitry of the brain, we can presume that brand information on cigarette packaging has a similar effect on smokers’ preferences.
Plain packaging is a step towards both preventing future generations from developing this deadly addiction, and helping those who are trying quit the habit by removing many of the cues and associations that can drive them to continue buying tobacco products. And if anybody disagrees –