19/09/2013 08 06 31Back to Ireland Home

Teenagers would be put off trying smoking for the first time if tobacco was sold in plain packets, health campaigners have said.

Research involving 15 and 16 year olds found branded packets encourage young people to take up the habit, while smokers would try and quit if all packets were the same.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly said it is unacceptable for a product that kills 5,200 people a year to be packaged in a slim, pink container like a perfume or lipstick.

Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, we cannot allow deceptive marketing gimmicks to be used to lure our children into a deadly addiction that will ultimately kill half of those who become addicted, he said.

Standardised packaging is the next logical step in combating this public health epidemic.

A coalition of charities and health groups have come together to lobby the Government to bring in laws making it illegal for cigarette companies to use colour, text and size to market tobacco products.

Packets would instead be in colours like green or brown and emblazoned with large health warnings and images of disease.

They said it is one of the last remaining and powerful marketing tools the manufacturers have.

Dr Reilly is expected to bring legislation in early next year to ban logos, branding, colours, graphics and trademarks from cigarette packets, making Ireland only the second country to do so after Australia.

He lost his brother, a doctor and smoker, to lung cancer and his father, another smoker, suffered a stroke and was blind for the last 14 years of his life.

The research on teens views of cigarette marketing, jointly commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society, found cigarettes on sale in Ireland communicate fun and style, and give the perception that a smoker looks and feels better about themselves.

It found that cost plays a part in stopping teens buying premium brands, but appealing packaging has the power to generate buzz, incentivise a purchase and communicates perceived benefits of one brand over another.

All teenagers surveyed said the new unbranded packets were at odds with the image they want to portray.

When asked by researchers who would smoke cigarettes in plain packets, one teen said I d say an old person who smokes loads they are too far gone and wouldn t care if they are seen with the packs anyway.

The research also found branding helps to build identity and status and that they would want to be proud of brands they can show off to their peers

The study, carried out by Ignite Research, was launched by the coalition of organisations including the ISPCC, Barnardos, the Children s Rights Alliance, the Asthma Society, the Irish Cancer Society, Irish Heart Foundation and ASH Ireland.

According to the HSE s National Office of Tobacco Control, manufacturers need to recruit 50 new smokers a day to replace those who die or quit.

During the research, teenagers were shown cigarettes and asked to class them as rejected, acceptable and aspirational brands.

Key factors were colour, box and cigarette shape, pack imagery and the brand name itself, while some thought the positive brand attributes, such as glamour, fashion or job status, are projected on to the smoker.

Some slim, lipstick shaped boxes were described as classy, and looking good on a table.

Public backs plans to remove branding from cigarette packets

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Almost two thirds of people support moves to sell cigarettes in plain packaging, suggesting tobacco companies will soon lose the battle to protect their brands’ identities.

The government will publish a consultation on Monday examining plans to strip all branding from cigarette packs sold in England. The move has been welcomed by health groups.

“Pack designs are used to promote brand imagery, and also distract attention from health warnings,” said Professor John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies. “Putting tobacco into plain packs creates no problem for existing users who want to continue to buy the product, but protects children and young people from becoming familiar with and perhaps identifying with specific brands.”

Branded cigarette packs are considered vital to the profits of the tobacco firms, which are mounting a ferocious lobbying campaign to defend their right to differentiate their products.

But an independent YouGov survey of 10,000 adults, conducted for Action on Smoking and Health, suggests 62% of people support plain packaging while only 11% oppose it. The survey found that only 6% believe the tobacco industry can be trusted to “tell the truth”.

Ash also claims around eight out of 10 people support smoke free legislation, with the majority of the public in favour of further restrictions on smoking in public and on tobacco promotion.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said the poll showed the cigarette companies were fighting a losing battle. “Big Tobacco has the money for a fight, but money can’t buy legitimacy,” Arnott said. “Now that even a business friendly government like ours can say they want the tobacco industry to have no business in the UK there’s nowhere left to turn. This is the endgame for Big Tobacco.”

A spokesman for the British Medical Association said plain packaging was key to the strategy for reducing levels of smoking in the UK. “As doctors we see first hand the devastating effects of tobacco addiction, and therefore we support moves to reduce the number of people taking up this deadly habit,” the spokesman said.

But a backlash against the proposals is already mobilising.

“It would appear that Andrew Lansley the health secretary has made up his mind before the consultation has even been launched on Monday,” said Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest. “We do think that the total process is a total farce.”

The Association of Convenience Stores, which represents corner shops, has vowed to fight the proposal. “We do not believe that government should impose such a measure at a time when the recently enacted tobacco display ban is still to be implemented in England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” said James Lowman, its chief executive. “The confusion that this would create would create further regulatory burdens on thousands of businesses.”

Tobacco firms argue that they have a right to defend their intellectual property rights.

“Our trademarks are protected by law and we have a fundamental right to differentiate our brands from those of our competitors,” said a spokesman for Imperial Tobacco, which manufactures the Lambert & Butler and Embassy brands.

The spokesman warned that generic packaging would increase “the already high level of counterfeit product available in the UK”.

Australia is the only country so far to pledge to introduce plain packaging.