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Smoking warnings on plain cigarette packets have ‘greater impact’

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Health warnings on plain-packaged cigarettes have more of an impact on smokers than those on branded packs, according to UK researchers.

They have carried out one of the first studies to explore how smokers responded to standardised – or plain – packaging.

“Our research found that it was associated with increased warning salience, and thoughts about risks and quitting”

Crawford Moodie

The researchers, from Stirling University and King’s College London, surveyed current smokers in 2017, when both standardised and fully-branded packs were on the market.

They found that smokers using standardised packs were more likely to have noticed the warnings “often” or “very often”, compared to those who had never used standardised packs.

This same group also read warnings closely “often” or “very often”, and said they thought “somewhat” or “a lot” about the risks of smoking and about potentially quitting.

In addition, they were more likely to have noticed a stop-smoking website on packs, according to the study published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory.

The UK became the third country to fully implement standardised tobacco packaging in May 2017, following Australia in December 2012 and France in January 2017.

“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that standardised packaging reduces the appeal of tobacco products”

George Butterworth

The government phased in standardised packaging, with companies given 12 months, from May 2016, to implement the policy.

The researchers investigated whether there was an association between using standardised packs and the health warnings, thoughts about the risks of smoking, thoughts about quitting, and awareness and use of stop-smoking websites.

They conducted an online survey with 1,865 current smokers aged 16 and over, living in Yorkshire and Humber and the West Midlands, between February and April 2017.

The survey found 76% of participants reported they were currently using standardised packs, while 9% were not currently using them but had previously, and 14% had never used standardised packs.

Lead study author Dr Crawford Moodie said: “Consistent with the broad objectives of standardised packaging, our research found that it was associated with increased warning salience, and thoughts about risks and quitting.

University of Stirling

Dr Crawford Moodie

Crawford Moodie

“The findings provide some support for standardised packaging and are consistent with research in Australia, the first country to introduce the policy.”

Warnings used on standardised packs were novel and larger than those on fully-branded packs – and displayed pictorial images on both main display areas, rather than just the reverse.

The researchers noted that this might help to explain the findings, particularly in relation to warning salience and thoughts about the health risks.

Dr Moodie highlighted that the Department of Health estimated that standardised packaging would have a net benefit to government of £25bn 10 years after implementation.

“While our findings provide support for standardised packaging during the transition period, further research is needed to explore the intended and any unintended consequences of this policy,” he said.

George Butterworth, senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, said: “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that standardised packaging reduces the appeal of tobacco products.”

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