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Plain packaging could prevent nicotine habit

7 April 2011

Plain cigarette packaging could help prevent people taking up smoking, according to new research led by Bristol scientists. The study, part of the work of the UK Centre for Tobacco Studies (UKCTCS), also showed that packaging would have little effect on those who already smoke on a daily basis.

The researchers monitored the eye movements of non-smokers, light smokers and daily smokers whilst looking at two different sorts of cigarette packets: both had identical health warnings but one was branded and one plain.

The results showed that the eyes of non-smokers and light smokers were drawn to the health warnings on plain packets more than on branded packets, suggesting that plain packaging enhances attention to health warnings.  Existing smokers did not seem to be affected by packaging modifications.

Marcus Munafò, Professor of Biological Psychology, who led the research said: “In this study we assessed the impact of plain packaging on visual attention towards health warning information and brand information on branded and plain cigarette packs, using eye tracking technology.”

“This technology provides a direct measure of eye gaze location and therefore the focus of visual attention.  It is plausible that the more someone looks at the health warnings, for example, the more likely those health warnings are going to be read and understood, with a subsequent impact on behaviour.”

Tobacco marketing has been banned in many countries as it encourages the uptake of smoking and makes it harder for smokers to quit.  In response, the tobacco industry has focused on unregulated marketing channels, including packaging, as a way of promoting its products.

Plain packaging has been proposed to address the issue of tobacco promotion, meaning every packet would be the same shape and colour, with standard typeface, colour and size for relevant legal markings and health warnings.

However, the tobacco industry has argued that there is no evidence to support the move and is campaigning against it.  This UKCTCS study provides important support for introducing plain packaging, as well as demonstrating exactly why the tobacco industry is fighting these plans so desperately.

The article will be published online by the scientific journal Addiction on 11 April 2011.


Marcus Munafò
Professor of Biological Psychology
School of Experimental Psychology
University of Bristol
12a Priory Road
United Kingdom

+44.117.9546841 t.
+44.117.9288588 f.
DOWNLOAD PDF : Munafo et al. (2011)

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