One group says plain packaging of cigarettes works to deter smokers, whereas another group says the practice doesn’t work and in fact may encourage smokers to smoke more, according to a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. Although the first group has a few years of proof to back up their claims, the second is only going by information gleamed in a recent small study.
The idea behind plain packaging of cigarettes has been around since the early 1990s. The mystique of cigarettes does not come from the product itself, but rather by the packaging. If you remove the colors, lettering and trademarks, you are making the packaging uniform in appearance, and thereby decreasing the allure of the product.
Back in December 2012, Australia became the first country in the world to require all tobacco products be sold in plain packaging with graphic pictorial as well as text warnings. Prior to this monumental change, there were no studies on plain packaging’s effectiveness, but as early as 2015, “fourteen separate studies on the impact of plain packaging in its first year were published” which showed the number of quit attempts had increased. Plus young people seemed turned off by the packs. By 2014, the “consumption of cigarettes and tobacco in the first quarter of 2014 was the lowest ever, with reports of numbers falling from 16.6% in 2007 to 12.8% in 2013.
The small study conducted here in the U.S. found that “most people, whether they are smokers or nonsmokers, don’t like these warning labels;” they see them as “a threat to their choices, freedom, or autonomy.” Not only did the labels make participants feel angry and manipulated, but by requiring these labels, they felt the government is “overly domineering.”
These responses seemed to come “from participants who measured high in psychological reactance, a trait that makes someone more prone to negative and resistant thoughts when they believe they’re being told what to do.” The researcher said the “warning labels may actually be doing harm to the group that needs help.”
So, according to the study, it appears that people don’t like to be told what to do, like quitting smoking, which these graphic labels on cigarette pack attempt to do by showing the ugly truth of the damage caused by smoking. But it also seems like a certain percentage of people would never quit anyway, whether the cigarettes are in plain packaging or in their current glory, because quitting would mean they were wrong in their decision to start smoking in the first place. They will be the ones who will smoke to their dying day to prove to the rest of us that we can’t change their mind.
Could it be the tobacco industry had a hand in this study by putting out negative propaganda ahead of new attempts to bring plain packaging to the United States? Who actually funded this study seems to be missing from the article.
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Image from the Medical Daily article, L. Brian Stauffer photographer