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Plain packets would cut number of women smokers, says report

9 Sept. 2011

Wrapping cigarettes in plain packaging and banning the sale of colourful, branded packs could help to reduce tobacco consumption among smokers, especially young women who smoke, a study has found.

Researchers found a marked reduction in tobacco consumption among a group of 48 smokers who were given dummy, plain packs of cigarettes to use over a two-week period rather than branded packets.

The findings lend support to a controversial suggestion that tobacco companies should be forced to abandon their attractively marketed packaging and adopt plain packs in dull colours with prominent health warnings. The Government is expected to announce a formal consultation on the proposal later this year.

Scientists at Stirling University’s Institute for Social Marketing carried out the tests of plain cigarette packaging on a sample of young smokers from Glasgow, aged between 18 and 35, who completed detailed questionnaires about their attitude towards the plain packs they were given to hold their usual brands of cigarettes.

“This pilot naturalistic study suggests that plain packaging could potentially help to reduce tobacco consumption among some young adult smokers, and women in particular,” the researchers conclude in a study published yesterday in the journal Tobacco Control.

The plain packets were rated more negatively than branded packets, cigarettes were taken out less often, handed out less frequently and the packs were hidden more often, said Crawford Moodie, the study’s lead author.

“Despite the small size of this study it adds an important real-world dimension to the research on the way smokers respond to plain packaging,” Dr Moodie said.

“The study confirms the lack of appeal of plain packs, with the enjoyment and consumption of cigarettes being reduced. We’re now looking to build on this research to understand more about the impact of packaging on smokers,” she added.

Gerard Hastings, director of the Stirling Institute, said that although the pilot study was too small to produce statistical significance, it was indicative of being effective in cutting down tobacco use. “Plain packaging is off-putting. It makes smokers behave in a negative way towards their habit, it reinforces that negative attitude and it’s more pronounced in women than in men,” he said.

Australia is set to become the first country to introduce plain packaging next year. The tobacco industry is opposed to the plan, arguing that it encourages the sale of contraband cigarettes and infringes their trademarks.

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