Why cigarette packs matter

March 12th, 2011 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 66 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 12 March 2011

This week our government committed itself to the removal, albeit slowly, of cigarette displays in shops. But plain packaging on cigarettes has been delayed for further consultation.

The Unite union is unimpressed. They represent 6,000 people in tobacco production and distribution, and put out a statement: “Switching to plain packaging will make it easier to sell their illicit and unregulated products, especially to young people”. This “may increase long-term health problems”. Tory MP Philip Davies says: “plain packaging for cigarettes would be gesture politics… it would have no basis in evidence.”

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not, sadly, their own facts. Cigarette packaging has been used for brand building and sales expansion, and that is bad enough: but it has also been used for many decades to sell the crucial lie that cigarettes which are “light”, “mild”, “silver”, and the rest, are somehow “safer”.

This is one of the most important con tricks of all time: because people base real world decisions on it, even though low tar cigarettes are just as bad for you as normal cigarettes, as we have known for decades now. Manufacturers’ gimmicks, like the holes on the filter by your fingers, confuse laboratory smoking machines, but not people. Smokers who switch to lower tar brands compensate with larger, faster, deeper inhalations, and by smoking more cigarettes. The collected data from a million people shows that those who smoke low tar and “ultra-light” cigarettes get lung cancer at the same rate as people who smoke “normal” cigarettes. They are also, paradoxically, less likely to give up smoking.

So the “light” “pale” and “mild” packaging sells a lie. But do people know this? In data from two population-based surveys, a third of smokers believed incorrectly that “light” cigarettes reduce health risks, and were less addictive (it’s 71% in China).  A random telephone digit survey of 2,120 smokers found they believed on average that “ultra lights” convey a 33% reduction in risk. A postal survey of 500 smokers found a quarter believed “light” cigarettes are safer. A school-based questionnaire of 267 adolescents found once again, as you’d expect, that they incorrectly believed “light” cigarettes to be healthier and less addictive.

Where do all these incorrect beliefs come from? Careful manipulation by the tobacco industry, as you can see for yourself, in their internal documents available for free online. They aimed to deter quitters, and “mild” products, which were made to seem safer and less addictive, were the perfect vehicle.

But over 50 countries, including the UK, have now banned a few magic words like “light” and “mild”. So is that enough? No. A survey of 15,000 people in 4 countries found that after the UK ban, there was a brief dip in false beliefs, but by 2005 we bounced back to having the same false beliefs about “safer looking” brands as the US.

This is because brand packaging continues to peddle these lies. A street-interception survey from 2009 of 300 smokers and 300 non-smokers found that people think packages with “smooth” and “silver” in the names are safer, and that cigarettes in packaging with lighter colour, and a picture of a filter, were also safer.

Of course tobacco companies know this. As Philip Morris said in their internal document “Marketing New Products in a Restrictive Environment”: “Lower delivery products tend to be featured in blue packs. Indeed, as one moves down the delivery sector, then the closer to white a pack tends to become. This is because white is generally held to convey a clean healthy association.”

If you’re in doubt of the impact this branding can have, ”brand imagery” studies show that when participants smoke the exact same cigarettes presented in lighter coloured packs, or in packs with “mild” in the name, they rate the smoke as lighter and less harsh, simply through the power of suggestion. These illusory perceptions of mildness, of course, further reinforce the false belief that the cigarettes are healthier.

But these aren’t the only reasons why banning a few words from packaging isn’t enough. A study on 600 adolescents, for example, found that plain packages increase the noticability, recall, and credibility of warning labels.

There’s no real doubt that the extended, complex, interlocking branding and packaging machinations of cigarette companies play a major role in misleading smokers about the risks, by downplaying them, and sadly nothing from Unite – for shame – or some tory MP will change that.

If you don’t care about this evidence, or you think jobs are more important than people killed by cigarettes, or you think libertarian principles are more important than both, then that’s a different matter. But if you say the evidence doesn’t show evidence of harm from branded packaging, you are simply wrong.


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66 Responses



  1. Blythy said,

    March 12, 2011 at 12:18 am

    corrected link for the phillip morris document www.pmdocs.com/pdf/2044762173_2364.pdf

  2. Daniel Rutter said,

    March 12, 2011 at 1:25 am

    If people think that “light” cigarettes are healthier than the regular kind, though, how much effect will changing the packaging have on that belief?

    Peripheral stuff like being reassured by a sky-blue box and bold logo declaring that you’re smoking Menthol Ultranices with Vitamin C may change if everyone has to use plain boxes with a small name-of-product and a large picture of rotten lungs. But consumers will still be able to buy “light” cigarettes in whatever box, and the belief that “light” cigs are not as bad seems to be ineradicable.

    The next Whack-A-Mole step would, I suppose, be to outlaw naming cigarettes in any way that might suggest to an idiot in a hurry that they’re less harmful than other cigarettes, presumably with some allowance for filtered cigs versus unfiltered, because the filter really does catch some of the crap. But I don’t think anything short of mandating only one formulation and appearance of cigarette, regardless of manufacturer, would actually do the job. You could probably get the tobacco corporations and their paid governmental representatives to go along with that, but only if you legalised marijuana so they’d still have something to sell.

  3. johnpeat said,

    March 12, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Whilst I don’t dispute the effects of branding, I think the entire approach to smoking is becoming a little farcical.

    I doubt there’s a single smoker in the UK who’s unaware of the health risks and yet, not content with evicting them from almost every building and even threatening them with a smoking ban in their cars and at-home, we’re now resorting to ‘hiding’ their vice from sight in shops for – I’m not sure what reason exactly!?

    PLEASE don’t say it’s to stop kids being tempted because anyone who’s ever hidden ANYTHING from a kid will know just how effective that isn’t – in fact it generally increases their interest by a factor of a LOT so – err – are we hoping smokers will forget about cigarettes? or what??

    Smokers know smoking is bad for them – maybe it’s time everyone else realised this and stopped wasting time and money patronising and insulting them further!?

    End of the day, if they want to kill themselves, who are we to stop em?

  4. Andrew Rose said,

    March 12, 2011 at 6:42 am

    Daniel – given that the words have already been outlawed and this proposal will take away any hints from the packaging, how will anyone know that a particular bland pack is supposed to be “light”?

    This will surely reduce it down to a matter of Marlboro vs. Benson & Hedges, with each name in plain type on a plain background and no possible suggestion that one claim might be less harmful than the other.

    So many people I’ve known smoked “lights” and “ultra-lights” in the conviction that they were doing themselves less harm. I’m sure when they took the words off the packs they merely stuck to the boxes that looked the same due to the design.

    So it’s time to do away with the design, isn’t it? It continues to sell a lie.

  5. censored said,

    March 12, 2011 at 7:45 am

    This is all tinkering. Advert bans and public smoking bans are trainable but now the government has a choice:

    Either let people smoke or ban sales completely. Anything else seems pointless.

  6. hughcharlesparker said,

    March 12, 2011 at 8:23 am

    @Censored: Banning sales completely might be more effective than other measures, but I don’t see how that means that no other measure can have any effect.

  7. Ian said,

    March 12, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Banning cigarette sales would be inappropriate and unhelpful. Adults are entitled to choose to do something which is bad for them – we just tax them enough that they more than cover the cost to the NHS and legislate to minimise the harm to others. However children are different; if the evidence suggests that taking cigarettes off display and/or controlling the packaging will reduce the numbers of young people taking up smoking then we should do it.

    The 2 arguments that I’ve seen used in the media this week are tobacco companies telling us it won’t work (in which case it shouldn’t matter to them) and retailers telling us that tobacco accounts for 40% of sales for many small retailers who will shut down as a result (so it will work?).

    @ daniel – legalising marijuana and selling it on a similar basis to tobacco (not on display, licensed retailers only) seems a perfectly reasonable next step. Again make sure it is taxed sufficiently to cover any harm it does and legislate to protect others. better than the current situation where we tell young people it’s illegal and they’ll get a criminal record if they smoke it and then don’t bother policing it.

  8. iainfletcher said,

    March 12, 2011 at 9:11 am

    As a smoker I doubt this will have any impact on me as my brand choices are already pretty set.

    Banning cigarettes will only have the same effect as other drugs (see meow meow for classic example) I’ll end up buying them from dodgy guys in pubs, for more money that goes to criminal gangs rather than the NHS.

    Seems to me either we go the whole hog and ban ALL harmful recreational drugs (alcohol included) or we legislate and regulate all of them to collect taxes to offset the social harm they cause.

  9. jont said,

    March 12, 2011 at 9:23 am

    The “adults should be allowed to harm themselves” argument tends to miss the obvious point: adults should not be allowed to harm other people.

    If someone could invent a cigarette which released no byproduct, so which caused zero passive smoking in those around them, the argument might hold water. Until then, smokers are causing discomfort, distress, and health risks to those around them, in particular their children, who have less option to remove themselves or complain.

    Fact is it’s a revolting and dangerous habit that endangers and distresses a lot of other people besides the addict. A total ban is not unreasonable, but the government is clearly trying to gradually make it so hard to smoke that people just give up, sidling up to a total ban in boil-the-frog tactic enjoyed by so many unpopular policymakers.

    Why? Because although you have to be a selfish idiot to smoke, a lot of selfish idiots vote, and every political party is acutely aware of that. And of course there’s also a significant selfish-idiot sales tax.

  10. Geeb said,

    March 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Did Philip Davies claim that there was no evidence of branded packaging causing harm, or of unbranded packaging leading to improvements? There’s no link to the full context of that quote, and Google only refers me back to BadScience.

    The case for branded packaging causing harm is well stated above, but does it necessarily follow that unbranded packaging reduces harm? Banning words like “light” and “mild” didn’t.

    Philip Davies is wrong (about everything, not just this) but I’m not sure this article actually proves it.

  11. sjhoward said,

    March 12, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Even accepting the evidence that packaging influences purchasing, where is the evidence that plain packaging changes behaviour? We need to tackle smoking, but why the lower standard of evidence for this than for anything else?

    Surely we should be arguing for a well-conducted trial of plain packaging to see what the effects are, not blind introduction of a national policy with relatively lightweight evidence behind it, and no evidence of its actual effect.

    1. Packaging has some influence on behaviour -> Change packaging will change behaviour in a significant (and positive) way.

    2. Fish oils have some link to IQ -> Fish oil supplementation in schools will improve learning in a significant (and positive) way.

    Why demand greater evidence in situation 2 than situation 1 when the stakes are arguably higher in situation 1?

    I worry that having a legal supply that is plain-packaged and expensive vs an illegal supply that’s both prettier and cheaper drives people away from legal supply, making the whole issue that bit harder to tackle.

  12. thepoisongarden said,

    March 12, 2011 at 9:48 am

    @johnpeat
    ‘Smokers know smoking is bad for them’

    Sadly, that is not so. Smokers know smoking is bad for other people. Leave aside the small, but nonetheless real, minority that does not accept that there is any connection of any sort between smoking and harm. There is a considerable number of smokers who accept the statistics showing that around 50% of smokers will shorten their lives as a result but are convinced that they are in the other 50%.

    Many of the smokers who think smoking harms other smokers do so because they are using ‘healthier’ cigarettes. This is the group this proposed change is targeting.

  13. prog said,

    March 12, 2011 at 10:26 am

    The problem with the SHS argument is that studies were cherry picked in order to produce a result that could be used to deceive the public. That is, TC ignored those studies that would otherwise dilute their claims. Having said that, any increase of claimed risks are virtually zero. That’s why they love quoting %ages rather than actual figures, the 25% increased risk for lung cancer in passive smokers is a classic example.

    I’m surprised all you egg heads out there haven’t noticed the bias. Perhaps some have, but prefer to adhere to the old adage ‘The ends justify the means’.

    As for children…well how about a ban on all alcohol display and advertising. After all, it really doesn’t need any concocted studies to show how that harms young people, I’m sure we all know of young drivers who have killed/injured themselves or others whilst under the influence. Similarly drunken violence and other drink related admissions to casualty.

    The irony is that TC templates are now being by adopted in order to denormalise alcohol. I’m not sure that’ll go down too well with the rabid anti smoking drinkers. Some of the less bigoted among us predicted this years ago. The assault on smokers was just the start, the health fanatics are on a roll.

  14. Indy said,

    March 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

    @jont – ‘smokers are selfish idiots’. This is a bit over the top I think. Smokers are simply people who tried something and got addicted. For whatever reason they have not managed to give up. We make them go outside, we attempt to minimise harm to others. Some smokers will not seek to minimise exposure to children – you can find selfishness or ignorance anywhere. And we all have blind spots – that’s just part of being human.

    Let’s try a little understanding – demonising a group does not help, and we certainly do not live in the black and white world your stance seems to suggest.

    BTW – I am not a smoker.

  15. seajay said,

    March 12, 2011 at 11:14 am

    So smokers who switch to low tar brands have the same cancer rates because they take longer, deeper, faster inhalations and smoke more cigarettes. Therefore it must be the case that low tar brands are safer per puff. Surely this is a good thing? Smokers then have the option to smoke the same amount with a lower risk or smoke more for the same risk. At least some smokers are adults and smoke because they enjoy it so they’ve got more of what they enjoy for the same risk, a gain and no loss. Even in the case of children or helpless adicts at least they are no worse off.
    I don’t see why you are so against these low tar brands.

    Perhaps you’re not against the low tar brands per se but you just raised the issue to demonstrate the fact that marketing can plant false ideas in people’s minds. Clearly that’s true (or why would anyone bother with a marketing department) but I think this is a really bad example. It’s not surprising that all those surveys of smokers found that they believed low tar cigarettes were safer. They believed that because it’s true (if you interpret the question quite reasonably as “are they safer per pack?”).

    Finally, whatever the dangers of low-tar vs regular strength cigarettes. What has it got to do with the argument from Unite that you raised at the start of the article?

  16. Guy Chapman said,

    March 12, 2011 at 11:28 am

    @seajay: The “safety” per puff is irrelevant if it has the documented effect because the risk applies to the individual, not to each breath taken. The fact is that the life risk from smoking is not affected by tar content or other factors, and these are used as a marketing ploy to deter people from giving up smoking with an illusory promise of reduced risk. It’s deceit, plain and simple. Few industries are as cynical as the tobacco industry.

  17. seajay said,

    March 12, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Guy,

    It all depends how you view smokers I suppose. If you see them as a bunch of idiots and that our job should be be to prevent them killing themselves then you’re right, saftey per puff doesn’t matter.

    If you see them as a varied group of people, some of whom are idiots and some of whom have made a decision that they enjoy smoking sufficiently that they are willing to accept the risk then it’s different. Because in that case, although the level of risk has stayed the same, the number of puffs and therefore the level of enjoyment may have gone up. Now I don’t smoke so I can’t really comment on how fun it is but I know some smart and well disciplined people who do so I don’t think we can dismiss all smokers as pawns of big tabacco.

    A useful analogy might be paragliders or scuba equipment. Every year manufacturers make them safer for a given level of performance but the accident rates don’t drop significantly, people just pick higher performance equipment and dive deeper or fly higher. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad to make a safer paraglider, it just tells us about how people deal with risks.

    Chris

  18. LoonyPandora said,

    March 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I trust that your stats, figures and science about cigarettes are correct – I’m not qualified to comment on that.

    However, I am qualified to comment as a designer. A cigarette package without loads of swooshes and fancy colours is going to look really appealing to anyone with good taste. Hell, the thought of a plain white package with tight set Helvetica almost arouses me – and I’ve never smoked!

    I would suggest consulting with designers who are the expert in this kind of thing before bikeshedding and deciding that making a black/white package will solve the problem.

  19. onagol said,

    March 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    @jont – Potential harm to others is not limited to smoking – taken to its logical conclusion you would have pretty much everything outlawed (think of cars as an obvious example) but maybe you think that would be no bad thing and we should all return to the trees.

    For the record I pretty much entirely agree with @Ian. I smoked for about 18 years (about half my life!) and gave up about a year and a half ago.

  20. jakers said,

    March 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    @LoonyPandora Maybe the answer is to use comic sans?

  21. worded said,

    March 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I smoked heavily for about twelve years and branding certainly played its part. It didn’t make me start smoking in the first place, but it certainly helped to delay my quitting – and on the many occasions I tried to give up it made it more difficult stay quit! I think the familiarity of my particular brand, the cryptic intelligence of its advertising and its rich design all somehow became wrapped up in my own self image.

    Design isn’t about making something look pretty. Prettiness comes at a far lower price than a well researched brand. Companies invest heavily in how they look because they know it works. They know they can get under the skin of people. They know they can create a sense of familiarity. They know that the difference between typefaces, colours and the tone of the words they use can have as much impact as the difference between seeing someone smile or grimace.

    Cigarette packaging design is probably less about selling than it is about reinforcing belief or trust in a way of life. Any addict welcomes positive, familiar, habit-affirming messages like that.

  22. chinaphil said,

    March 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    @johnpeat
    “I doubt there’s a single smoker in the UK who’s unaware of the health risks”
    I know two of them: my parents. It’s not that they don’t “know” that smoking causes cancer. They’re just incapable of thinking about it logically. My Dad announced to me the other day that his smoking was a good thing, because he’d die earlier and be less of a burden on the state. When I pointed out that chemotherapy for lung cancer was actually incredibly expensive, he was genuinely surprised. And this from an educated man who used to work in the NHS!
    While everyone knows the theory, as thepoisongarden says, the same number believe they will actually get cancer as believe they are worse than average drivers.

  23. parrhesiast82 said,

    March 12, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    The biggest way to send a message to kids is to make it illegal to smoke under 18.

    The kids I work with point out interminably that it can’t be that bad or the government would outlaw it.

    Older smokers can choose for themselves but we must protect the kids

  24. Chris Oakley said,

    March 12, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    @jont
    The cigarette that apparently harms nobody in particular has been invented and is called the e-cigarette.

    The other tobacco product that is probably harmless to others is the SNU, a form of chewing tobacco. SNUs are illegal throughout the EU except in Sweden where a fairly large percentage of the male population use them. Sweden as a higher than average incidence of tobacco use in men but the lowest incidence of lung cancer in Western Europe so it would appear that the Swedes were smart to seek exemption from the EU ban. Despite the best efforts of public health protagonists, attempts to link SNU use to mouth cancer and just about everything else have failed to provide any compelling evidence.

    In an amusing recent incident, the head of the Swedish Public Health Institute commented in the press on evidence from a study that suggested that they caused impotence. Embarrassingly for her, it turned out that the study had not actually taken place at the time but I think that we can all take a wild guess at what its findings will be.

    I am not sure that calling the likes of Einstein, Orwell, Edison and Twain idiots helps your argument but when it comes to tobacco legislation I can agree that politics seem to play an important part. Ben makes a coherent argument as usual but while I am not a fan of misleading branding I personally have doubts about people not being able to buy a legal product openly.

  25. thatgingerscouser said,

    March 13, 2011 at 9:32 am

    @johnpeat “End of the day, if they want to kill themselves, who are we to stop em?”

    This is possibly the most selfish, intellectually void and ill-judged comment I’ve ever seen on badscience.net. Based on johnpeat’s twisted logic we should do away with The Samaritans, allow depressed mothers to buy 500 aspirin pills in one go and euthanase would-be suicides who fail in their first attempt. I mean, who are ‘we’ to stop families being torn apart after the premature death of a loved one?

    If that’s the question, then ‘we’ are people who were born with an desire for our relatives, friends and fellow human beings to not live in misery — you know, everyone who’s NOT a sociopath.

    The fact most people start smoking when they are teenagers and that teenagers in particular find it difficult to come to terms with their own mortality is not a casual link. The numbers who take up smoking in middle age when they have children (dependants!), a mortgage and a half-decent pension to look forward to are so negligible as to be practically zero.

    Can we just re-iterate a point: cigarettes are just about the only legal product that you can buy that WILL KILL YOU if used correctly. Half of all smokers die as a direct result of their habit. Anything we can do — short of prohibition — to discourage people from starting this highly addictive habit is a gain for humanity.

    As a kid, the shop I visited most often was the newsagent; for obvious reasons — the butcher didn’t sell sweets, crisps or The Beano. To be confronted by a multi-coloured smorgasbord of exciting magic cartons taunting me (what kid likes to be told they can’t do something until they’re older?) every time I went to buy a lolly ice was, quite frankly, unfair. All a child wants is to be treated like a grown-up, and the link between being a grown-up and smoking is a hard mindset to break, and judging by the number of kids who take up the habit, it’s a battle we’re losing.

    We should never underestimate the power of advertising or design (look at Apple). If this or future legislation positively affects just a few of the 450 British children who take up smoking every day* it will be worth it, won’t it??

    I couldn’t agree more with @LoonyPandora that professional designers should be tasked with coming up with a generic pack of cigs which is as unappealing as possible. Stained teeth browns and fingertip nicotine yellows and comic sans in lung cancer black. They should get Wolff Olins involved – go knows they did a terrific job of making the London 2012 logo as unappealing as emphysema.

    *http://atyc.roycastle.org/global-statistics

  26. B0YC0TT said,

    March 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

    “But if you say the evidence doesn’t show evidence of harm from branded packaging, you are simply wrong”

    That’s a strong conclusion, for which I would expect you to provide evidence that the implementation of plain packaging in one state has resulted in lower instances of smoking-related death and / or disease. At the very least, I’d expect to see evidence that the implementation of plain packaging led to a lower incidence of smoking. Is there any I terminational experience, to date?

    Your survey evidence smacks of smokers trying to rationalise their choice by adopting interpretations of colours and design that support their predetermined position, even though those interpretations have no basis in reality.

    Besides, the health lobby’s campaign for plain packaging is emphatically NOT based on the idea of saving smokers from themselves, something that sounds a little nanny state even to many on the Left. The Health Secretary is on record citing the role of packaging in the recruitment of NEW smokers. What is the evidence for that?

  27. MildlyInteresting said,

    March 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    The cigarette industries argument about this seems to be that it won’t have any affect, and it’ll destroy small shops. Slight contradiction there.

  28. AlisonT100 said,

    March 13, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    OK, in danger of becoming a social pariah in this debate, I have to confess to being a smoker. ‘Light’, ‘Mild’ and packaging have NEVER influenced me.

    I admit, as a teenager, I thought that by smoking menthol fags my parents would just smell mint on me and I would get away with it.

    I have always gone with the taste of the cig – simple as that. When the government put those images of people who were dying of cancer; tumours; premature babies etc, I simply turned the packet over so I wouldn’t have to see the picture.

    I have two teenage daughters. I do NOT smoke anywhere near them nor do I EVER ask can I light up in someone else’s home. I do have consideration for others.

    And the fact of the matter is: if the government were ever to ban cigarettes in this country, who would pick up the revenue loss?

    Non-smokers and smokers alike…

    Smokers are subsidising the government coffers by millions each year – why do you think they keep increasing the price of a pack? Out of concern for our welfare? Nah…they hit us because they know we are addicts…indeed, lawful addicts.

    When I lived in the Middle East, the government put a tax on pork and alcohol…it didn’t affect the locals as they weren’t interested in those things. The expats didn’t bother, either, so the revenue never increased. They abolished that tax within six months. No-one is addicted to pork!

    The government have us smokers by the short and curlies. We pay our NI stamp just like the rest of you. You might suffer with congenital heart disorders, ME, MS, be overweight…whatever…we are ALL entitled, if we pay, to be treated.

    I hate smoking – I hate it with a passion. I wish I had never started…but it is a great way to ease the pressure. Citalopram on a monthly basis? That’s quite an expensive drug. The government isn’t paying for it for me. I am paying for my own drug.

    Smokers are treated like lepers. Let one of you stand forward and say you have no vices!

  29. helygog said,

    March 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Maybe it’s me but perhaps black packets with dark, funereal purple writing would cause a reduction in smoking?

  30. johnpeat said,

    March 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I’m disappointed someone on here would fall for the ‘harming other people’ argument – given the amount of scientific cajolery which went into ‘proving’ the case for that.

    As for dissuading kids from smoking – I can assure you that making cigs hard to get will NOT have that effect – indeed it’s likely to be the opposite.

    I’m sorry if you dislike smoking but it really wasn’t harming you and certainly isn’t now so perhaps you could stop whinging about it?

  31. Flawednongenius said,

    March 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    The intention of Big Tobacco in the use of words like mild, light etc. in their marketing are when it comes to trying to find the objective cause of smokers’ behaviour. And as anyone who has smoked will know, the “draw” and the “catch” of mild or light cigarettes is, er, milder and lighter than those that are not so described. That is an issue of taste, not of health risk.

    I don’t know any smokers who smoke light brands because they are “healthier”. The research you referenced was very small scale and, in any case, having an almost equal number of never-smokers in the sample means that it is even less helpful in telling us what is in smokers’ minds.

    Ask a wide bunch of regular, brand-loyal smokers whether their choice has more to do with taste than health-risk – it would be interesting to see the answer. Take a brand like Silk Cut – for all intents and purposes they would be called “B&H Lights” (a milder blend of the same tobacco and holes around the filter) – not smoked by B&H fans who think it will save their asses but by people who like the taste and draw of Silk Cut.

    I am no apologist for Big Tobacco but they have responded to legislation which has brought us to the current position. Initially there was the categorisation of “High Tar”, “Medium Tar” and “Low Tar” in the 70s/80s. That was imposed by the government; why else than to encourage people to smoke the brands with lower tar? Maybe the science has moved on since, but that lead to greater brand choice on the part of the consumer (the proliferation of “lights” and “milds” that you think is such a con trick). I don’t think you can pin that one on Big Tobacco.

    For many smokers the choice of smoking or not is simply.an expression of an attitude to risk – in the same way as many pursuits. Sure, it will kill many of them, but many will die of other causes (they will all die) – the strength of personal autonomy to make that choice can be witnessed on any rainy day outside any office or pub. Yes, that is a manifestation of addiction too, but it’s also choice – in the face of continued and aggressive victimisation by anti-smoking campaigners (where is, by the way, the evidence of the health benefits of smoke-free areas? California has had an indoor smoking ban since 1994 – if there was a general public health advantage I am sure we would have heard of it).

    The bit you missed, of course, is the evidence showing where banning all branding has led to a decline in smokers. To take a step that will cost struggling business hugely, and further demonises a perfectly legal habit, surely there should be an evidence-based assessment that, er, it will have an effect?

  32. littleplonky said,

    March 13, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    There is absolutely nothing intrinsically libertarian about a ban on cigarette packaging. If you are a free market, capitalist libertarian you might be against this bad, but a an anticapitalist libertarian would hate the tobacco industry as a hierarchical, profit-driven and therefore unfair and inhumane system and would have no interest in defending cigarette branding.

    Furthermore, you may want to reassess Unite’s agenda. Union leaders and bureaucracy often don’t have their members interests at heart.

  33. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 14, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Query about UK banning the word “light” in cigarette brands. It stood out tonight (Sunday) when BBC Radio 7 topical comedy show “Newsjack” gave a female character hilarious difficulties trying to buy 20 Marylebone Lights (I didn’t use the familiar name, they did). I considered making something of that, but Google results also imply that at least online, a UK smoker has little difficulty in buying UK-made cigarettes with “Light” either on the packet or being what you ask for. So is it a ban that hasn’t happened yet?

    I suppose that the programme makers probably have between them encyclopaedic first-hand knowledge of illicit quasi-pharmaceutical means of self-abuse, including ones that have imitation animal noises instead of actual names. As do readers of this blog. But, even so.

  34. MedicLewis1 said,

    March 14, 2011 at 1:55 am

    @Alisont100. The economic effects of smoking are a little more complicated than that. At first glance the implications can look overwhelmingly in favour, eg. taxation generates roughly £37bn, smoking related disease costs NHS circa £9-10bn. However that would be to ignore indirect costs such as lost working days from respiratory disease etc. (figures from undergrad public health teaching(5yrs old), no reference available)
    side point – the BNF 60 has citalopram at £1.23-1.57 depending on dose for a monthly prescription cost to NHS. Did you mean citalopram? seems cheap to me, the branded cipramil is up to 10x that but thats another story.

  35. Iro said,

    March 14, 2011 at 3:53 am

    ”Where do all these incorrect beliefs come from?” the authors asks.

    As someone already posted, governments are the ones who mandated low tar cigarettes. Worse, long after they uncovered the illusion, they still maintain their position while continuing to blame the tobacco industry for misleading the users. As Pr Robert Molimard, prominent tobacco expert writes: ”And yet, 20 years later, a European directive specified that as of January 1, 2004, contents (sic) for cigarettes should not exceed 10mg per cigarette for tar, 1mg for nicotine and 10mg for carbon monoxide. This 2003 directive is still in effect! It therefore becomes compelling to conclude that the EU endorses the light cigarettes deceit.” Read this and more anti-tobacco lies, manipulation and deceits at: cagecanada.blogspot.com/2010/12/beliefs-manipulation-and-lies-in.html

    As for plain packaging, anyone who believes that this will deter smokers from smoking or youngsters from starting is only fooling themselves and others. Ever since draconian anti-smoking campaigns, bans and taxes, Canada has created a rampant contraband problem. Contraband cigarettes are manufactured sold and delivered to both school chidren and adults in white transparent baggies containing 200 cigarettes, for a price between $6.00 to $20.00 per baggie, while colorful taxed packs can reach $90.00 for the same quantity . Trust me, the 40 – 50% of people young and old smoking these contraband cigarettes could care less for color, writing, light, regular or whatever one thinks one entices a person to smoke!

  36. locka99 said,

    March 14, 2011 at 9:58 am

    To me it sounds not only as if the packs should be plain but they should be in the most gaudy unhealthy looking colour possible. e.g. nicotine yellow / diarrhea brown or similarly jarring colours. Maybe toss in a review system or whitelist for names too with no appeal process.

  37. adamth0 said,

    March 14, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Putting cigarettes in a plain or deliberately unappealing packets is not going to work. Part of the allure of tobacco/smoking is the rebellious bad-boy nature of it. People will just buy or make their own stickers and packets/cases for their cigarettes. I’ve already seen people with stickers like these in the pub: www.fakefags.co.uk/category_stickers.asp

    I am a little surprised by the news that people smoking lower nicotine cigarettes are less likely to give up smoking. I would have thought that a lower dose of the addictive ingredient would have meant a weaker addiction. I will be reading these citations with interest. I had thought that taxing tobacco products according to their nicotine/tar content would have been a good idea (make a normal packet of B&H prohibitively expensive, but one with 50% of the nicotine around the same price as would be normal today), meaning that people will eventually get used to lower dosages, and anyone picking up the habit (which still wouldn’t be any cheaper than today) will be exposed to less nicotine in the first place. I know some smokers who find a ‘light’ cigarette unsatisfying, and who would smoke twice as many and/or drag twice as hard. I also know some who are unable to smoke a ‘full strength’ cigarette. I think it’s a matter of what the induhvidual gets used to when they pick the habit up.
    It might also be an idea to require a rigorous standard of filter tip on a cigarette. Currently the thinking seems to be that ‘all cigarettes are harmful, and therefore we must concentrate on eliminating them rather than mitigating the effects’. A requirement for the once-publicised ‘trionic’ filter, or similar would mean the revenue could still be generated for the government coffers, but the cost to the NHS (and wider economy) would likely be reduced (although I believe these ‘safer’ filters are still being tested, and are unlikely to be seen in retail anytime soon).

  38. Michael Klein said,

    March 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I guess no one in his senses would suggest that smoking isn’t harmful. And since branding is all about creating possitive images of a product, no one would challenge your view in this respect either.

    So the question to be addressed is a question of responsibility. Who is responsible for his health. Rather a silly question, because who else but oneself can be responsible for one’s health? If you agree with me on that point there’s really nothing to gain from different packaging or “hidden display”. What’s the use of it? You found a lot of research results about smokings’ harmful consequences. I gather, anybody else who WANT’S to know about harmful effects can do so as well. These results are in the public domain. Everybody can access them and because of that I am strongly against any kind of restrictions on selling cigarettes, because is all amounts to a monsterous scam of reality (Smoking kills, show me the smoker deterred by such a parole).

    Then, there are loads of research showing harmful effect for meat. Shall we ban meat display as well, restrict access to butchers and allow people to sue their local butcher, when they get cancer? This entire smoking sharade comes to nothing else than simple and culturally rooted tutelage sourced by the belief that people are too illiterate to care for themselves.

  39. Trodamus said,

    March 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Cigarettes should be in black packaging with plain white lettering dictating their brand, with no additional varieties.

    Optionally, cigarette-stained-white — you know, that lovely cross between a faded piss yellow with feces-brown flecs — would also suffice. I mean, it’s what smoking does to your belongings anyway.

    And what the pro-tobacco people are forgetting that, one drink, one meal with red meat, driving down one road in your car, and so on, isn’t killing you; a single cigarette is. So stop suggesting that regulating sales of tobacco logically means we should ban any behavior that might feasibly end with people hurt or killed in a narrow band of circumstances.

  40. Carol2000 said,

    March 15, 2011 at 1:15 am

    The anti-smokers commit flagrant scientific fraud by ignoring more than 50 studies which show that human papillomaviruses cause at least 1/4 of non-small cell lung cancers. Smokers and passive smokers are more likely to have been exposed to this virus for socioeconomic reasons. And the anti-smokers’ studies are all based on lifestyle questionnaires, so they’re cynically DESIGNED to blame tobacco for all those extra lung cancers that are really caused by HPV. And they commit the same type of fraud with every disease they blame on tobacco.

    www.smokershistory.com/hpvlungc.htm
    www.smokershistory.com/SGHDlies.html

    And, all their so-called “independent” reports were ring-led by the same guy, Jonathan M. Samet, including the Surgeon General Reports, the EPA report, the IARC report, and the ASHRAE report, and he’s now the chairman of the FDA Committee on Tobacco. He and his politically privileged clique exclude all the REAL scientists from their echo chamber. That’s how they make their reports “unanimous!”

    www.smokershistory.com/SGlies.html

    For the government to commit fraud to deprive us of our liberties is automatically a violation of our Constitutional rights to the equal protection of the laws, just as much as if it purposely threw innocent people in prison. And for the government to spread lies about phony smoking dangers is terrorism, no different from calling in phony bomb threats.

  41. bringerofmorning said,

    March 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

    When you smoke your first cigarette, you are not intending to end up with a life-time addiction. I am a still a smoker,even no I no longer smoke. The flash of green from my preferred brand by-passes thinking and goes straight to an (almost) compulsion. So yes, for me the branding definitely worked.

    Making cigarettes harder to get (I moved to the country) certainly helped.

    I don’t think the idea that smoking-is-about-rebellion works when you are over twenty/your parents smoke and share cigarettes with you/ you are having a cigarette at seven am, trying desperately to keep it alight because it’s raining and you are sheltering in a porch 6″ deep since you can’t smoke indoors cos of the kids and actually you feel like a total loser when someone spots you damply protecting a barely-smouldering cig.

    If people really want to smoke, really, really, they’ll find a way. I don’t think this means we should be allowing tobacco companies to operate more effectively.

  42. 88HUX88 said,

    March 15, 2011 at 10:11 am

    why does the BBC always cut to shots of people smoking whenever there is a cigarette story in the news? and doesn’t this reinforce smoking? and the sometimes-attractive people also make me want to start so I can associate with them. To dissuade people from starting, which is the point, show shots of unattractive, unfashionable, poor, old and ill people smoking and link that image to smoking in people’s minds. Undo the work of the image builders.

  43. HungryHobo said,

    March 15, 2011 at 10:26 am

    jont:
    “If someone could invent a cigarette which released no byproduct, so which caused zero passive smoking in those around them, the argument might hold water.”

    they did.
    And the think of the children crowd *still* want to ban Electronic cigarettes because they might be a “gateway” drug.
    Many recreational drugs which comes in pill form would fit your requirements yet most of them are banned (for the sake of the children of course)

    The problem is that no matter what, for any action, someone, somewhere will figure out some convoluted, indirect or emergent way in which it could possibly, potentially, maybe affect other people.
    I used to play a game with a few friends where we’d try to come up with some action other than sitting very quietly on your own in a room with your hands on the table which couldn’t be considered to do harm to others… we gave up when one of the guys figured out how sitting quietly with your hands on the table could be considered harmful to others.

    you brand all smokers as selfish yet many are single with no children or otherwise simply don’t harm their children with it.
    My own father used to smoke a pipe but never inside.
    I wasn’t subjected to his second hand smoke.

    Smoking has become an almost religious issue, people who do it are automatically “selfish” or some other variations that basically translates to the modern day version of “sinners”.

    parrhesiast82:
    “The biggest way to send a message to kids is to make it illegal to smoke under 18.”

    that is a masterful strategy to make it into something cool which the older kids do,
    the only thing worse you could do would be to ban it entirely and make it even more attractive.

    thatgingerscouser: sorry to break this to you but you don’t own the people around you.
    even if you care for them.
    they’re their own human beings with their own minds.

    thatgingerscouser:
    “cigarettes are just about the only legal product that you can buy that WILL KILL YOU if used correctly. ”

    vastly untrue.
    Eat enough poptarts correctly and you’ll end up in an early grave.
    Buy a few litres of vodka and drink it all as fast as you physically can before it knocks you out and you might not even wake up.
    Buy a kayak and use it completely correctly going down some big rapids and one unlucky encounter with a sharp rock can turn a 20 year old athletic sportman into a corpse.
    The equivilent of 100 cups of coffee can kill you, make up a couple of litres of strong expresso and drink it down as fast as you can and you might end up in a box.
    Even if you just chug half a dozen regular pots of coffee you may end up in the hospital in serious trouble.

    but as long as they’re adults it’s up to them if they want to be self destructive.
    personally I don’t like coffee and poptarts,don’t smoke, rarely drink, don’t use drugs but regularly risk my life in a kayak.
    It’s my own life.
    I am not the property of my loved ones and I’m not arrogant enough to believe I own them though you apparently are.

    It is not your right to decide how I can risk my life as long as I avoid risking yours.

    littleplonky:
    “There is absolutely nothing intrinsically libertarian about a ban on cigarette packaging.”

    Indeed reqiring that relevent information about the health effects are on the packet increases the information that consumers recieve as long as it is accurate which is perfectly in line with libertarianism.
    Inequality of information is something to be worked against.
    There’s a small problem with not letting companies design their own product packaging but it’s not anything to get worked up about.

  44. paddyfool said,

    March 15, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I’m unconvinced that this will work, although I concede that the strongest argument that it might is the opposition it faces from shopkeepers who fear that it will. I know my eyes get drawn to brightly coloured things in shops, even when I know what they’re advertising is likely to be shockingly bad (e.g. the latest Empire magazine and its still image from Transformers 3, a film I have absolutely no intention of watching).

    Re the general issue of the morality of smoking, of the stigma that smokers increasingly face, and of anti-smoking policies, there’s a host of points that could be made: it’s a high pollution industry with very poor standards of labour relations, particularly at the farm level; it’s an industry with a history of lying for decades about the harms of their product, and real moral culpability for the people they deceived; it’s a habit that while any given person carries on, they also encourage other smokers to start/continue and encourage people to carry on selling the stuff; it’s a disease of the poor and something that keeps people poor, and hence taxation of it becomes a tax on the poor (30% of unskilled labourers smoke in the UK vs 15% of managerial/professionals); but finally, to play devil’s advocate for a minute here, there’s the matter of moral compensation – might non-smokers allow themselves to be nastier otherwise, especially to the stigmatised minority that smokers have become, because of the lofty moral position of avoiding this nasty habit?

    @prog (re #13),

    Are you arguing that secondhand smoke has no risks, or that the risks are exaggerated? If the former, there’s a straightforward mechanistic argument against it: if smoking increases a person’s risk of cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne infections, asthma, multiple sclerosis, miscarriage, stillbirth, congenitally malformed babies, dying in a fire etc., surely the same effects would also apply at some diminished level for others around the smoker or around smouldering butts they might leave behind as well. If the latter, by all means, please show us your evidence.

    @Chris Oakley re #23,

    “I am not sure that calling the likes of Einstein, Orwell, Edison and Twain idiots”…

    I wouldn’t call smokers idiots, even though smoking is associated with having a lower IQ. However, this list of individuals don’t do much to help your case: all of them smoked, or at any rate started smoking, long before the hard evidence came in in the 1950s and onwards that smoking was seriously harmful to peoples’ health. Although I daresay there are otherwise very smart people who smoke today, smokers do seem to be a particularly dwindling minority among the rich and successful, which only adds to the stigma associated with smoking.

  45. thatgingerscouser said,

    March 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    @HungryHobo:

    “Eat enough poptarts correctly and you’ll end up in an early grave.”

    Consuming a vast quantity of ANYTHING will do you harm – all you’ve got there is a truism. I said ‘used correctly’.

    “Buy a few litres of vodka and drink it all as fast as you physically can before it knocks you out and you might not even wake up.”

    Ditto for water. Consuming a vast quantity of ANYTHING will do you harm. Again, it wouldn’t be using it ‘correctly’.

    “Buy a kayak and use it completely correctly going down some big rapids and one unlucky encounter with a sharp rock can turn a 20 year old athletic sportman into a corpse.”

    Grasping at straws here a little, aren’t you? By your reasoning, using anything ‘correctly’ (even your legs) *MIGHT* result in untimely death – of course it could!

    Your point has nothing to do with the fact that IF USED CORRECTLY and MODERATELY, cigarettes WILL kill you unless something else kills you first. WILL, not *MIGHT*.

    “The equivalent of 100 cups of coffee can kill you, make up a couple of litres of strong expresso and drink it down as fast as you can and you might end up in a box.
    Even if you just chug half a dozen regular pots of coffee you may end up in the hospital in serious trouble.”

    Again, the same thing can be said for water – it could kill you if you drink too much of it but SO WHAT? WHO THE FUCK DIES FROM ANY OF THESE DAFT EXAMPLES YOU’VE GIVEN?

    In a given year in the UK…

    POPTART POISONING: 0
    ALCOHOL POISONING: 157*
    KAYAK DROWNING: <10
    COFFEE POISONING: <5
    SMOKING RELATED DISEASES: 106,000**

    I'm sorry, but this child-like defence of the practices and domination of the tobacco industry is not going to wash. I sure hope they are paying you well.

    "thatgingerscouser: sorry to break this to you but you don’t own the people around you.
    even if you care for them.
    they’re their own human beings with their own minds."

    Your lack of empathy for the suffering of those around you marks you out as a sociopath. The rest of us live in a society in which we all should look out for each other's best interests, that's the way it works. In civilised society we don't decree a death penalty for making a lousy decision that affects nobody but yourself. If we followed your example, medical care would be denied to smokers – hey, it was their decision to smoke, wasn't it?

    @HungryHobo: You disgust me.

    *http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/factsheets/acute-alcohol-poisoning
    **http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Smoking-The-Facts.htm

  46. Sharon said,

    March 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    This is a job for Comic Sans.

  47. HungryHobo said,

    March 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    @thatgingerscouser

    “WHO THE FUCK DIES FROM ANY OF THESE DAFT EXAMPLES YOU’VE GIVEN? ”

    You made a false statement. an obviously false one.
    I offered trivial counterexamples.

    “Your point has nothing to do with the fact that IF USED CORRECTLY and MODERATELY, cigarettes WILL kill you unless something else kills you first. WILL, not *MIGHT*.”

    that’s true of quite litterally anything.
    brain hemorages caused by snorting poprocks WILL kill you *unless something else kills you first*.

    it’s a meaningless statement.
    Anything will kill you if nothing else does first.
    yes smoking related diseases kill a lot of people, poptart related obesity contributes to 30000 deaths a year. Heart disease kills even more.

    “I’m sorry, but this child-like defence of the practices and domination of the tobacco industry is not going to wash. I sure hope they are paying you well.”

    I don’t give a fuck about the tobacco industry but you’re sounding like those nutjobs who always accuse Ben of being paid by big pharma.

    “Your lack of empathy for the suffering of those around you marks you out as a sociopath. The rest of us live in a society in which we all should look out for each other’s best interests, that’s the way it works. In civilised society we don’t decree a death penalty for making a lousy decision that affects nobody but yourself. If we followed your example, medical care would be denied to smokers – hey, it was their decision to smoke, wasn’t it? ”

    and your lack of respect for the people around you disgusts me.
    I feel sorry for any people unfortunate enough to be close to a control freak like you.

    I care for my loved ones, I help them if they want help an grieve when they’re hurt.

    I am not however as arrogant enough to decide that I automatically know better about how they should run their lives.

    Some of us are able to treat the human beings around us as adults who are able to run their own lives.
    you apparently lack that capacity(because you of course know far far better).

    I never said anything about denying medical care, that came only from the demented ramblings inside your own head.
    I also don’t believe fat people or people injured while taking part in high risk sports should be denied medical care.

    I simply believe they have every right in the world to run their own lives even if they choose to live in a self destructive manner.

    I’m no sociopath but you’ve got some serious contol issues there.

  48. wizman said,

    March 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    @LoonyPandora

    “A cigarette package without loads of swooshes and fancy colours is going to look really appealing to anyone with good taste. Hell, the thought of a plain white package with tight set Helvetica almost arouses me – and I’ve never smoked!”

    Maybe they’re planning on using Comic Sans? Not so cool now eh?

  49. ferguskane said,

    March 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    @johnpeat

    ‘I’m sorry if you dislike smoking but it really wasn’t harming you and certainly isn’t now so perhaps you could stop whinging about it?’

    REALLY? I used to work in an office where people smoked. I went home everyday with a sore throat and red eyes. It made me unhappy. I did not get cancer, but I’d say that it was harming me.

    One day, the office decided to become non smoking. My sore throats and red eyes went away. I was happier. Single case study? Yes, sorry. Multiple baseline. Yes.

    Do you want to go back to the days of smoking in planes? Would you like to be forced to sit in a badly ventilated room full of smoke all day?

    As for the rest. As has already been stated, what’s the harm in this initiative? If it does not work, what have we lost? If it’s counter productive (which I very much doubt) we can reverse the change.

    I actually smoke from time to time. I like a few drags with a drink, I like the odd joint. But, like almost all people (smokers, non smokers and especially bar staff) that I know, I’m very very grateful for the smoking ban. I love being able to travel and work free of smoke. Most of the smokers I know want to give up, they find it very difficult. The industry does not help us. We should not help them.

  50. thatgingerscouser said,

    March 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    @HungryHobo I’m not calling for cigs to be made illegal as that would create more problems than it would solve. Neither am I calling for people who smoke to be flogged in the streets, thrown in jail or put in a camp and cured(!).

    I AM however supporting this – let’s face it – rather mild initiative, as @ferguskane quite rightly points out,

    “what’s the harm in this initiative? If it does not work, what have we lost? If it’s counter productive (which I very much doubt) we can reverse the change.”

    EXACTLY. If you honestly believe putting ciggies into plain packets or hiding them from the view of children who frequent the local newsagents is an affront to your human rights (or makes me a ‘control freak(!)’ then you are in serious need of a reality check. Spend some time in China, or Congo, or Saudi Arabia then come back and talk to me about human rights violations.

  51. paddyfool said,

    March 16, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    To further push back the public health consequences of tobacco, we’ll want to do four things: decrease the rate of acquisition (the number of people starting smoking); increase the rate of people quitting; decrease the relapse rate; and ameliorate the consequences of smoking for smokers and non-smokers alike.

    Blocking the public display of tobacco products (and thus the advertisement of their sale) would seem to be aimed at preventing people from being influenced by said advertisement into trying tobacco or going back to the fags after having quit, as does the use of unbranded packaging. How much actual benefit these would have we have no evidence basis to say; the main UK advertising ban in 2003 was followed by a reduction in smoking rates, but even if we risk the post hoc ergo propter hoc assumption, we don’t actually know what influence the public display of tobacco in shops has as opposed to the other modes of advertising that have already been banned. The obvious costs, meanwhile, would come in the nuisance value such a measure would pose to retailers and smokers who might wish to buy from them. Less obviously, each option might possibly lead to a rise in the illegitimate trade of tobacco, for reasons already discussed.

    On balance, given the anticipated public benefits and costs, I think a ban on public display might at least be worth a try; with hundreds of thousands of people in the UK still picking up the habit each year, dissuading even a small share of young people from starting might be worth something. We’ll then be able to glean some idea of whether it works by whether we see a fall in youth smoking rates over the next few years (a fair proxy for incidence); the evidence from Iceland, who’ve had a ban since 2001, is that their ban was followed by a drop in youth smoking (the share of 16 year olds who’d smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days fell from 28% in 1999 to 16% in 2007 according to ESPAD). I can see, however, why current smokers who don’t wish to quit might be upset in having to bear the nuisance value of yet more legislation that doesn’t actually benefit them, and why retailers would be even more upset, since on top of the nuisance, if it works this would cost them cigarette sales.

  52. Diawl Bach said,

    March 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    The unfortunate fact is that some of the evidence for the harms of passive smoking in the general population is not the most robust. Nevertheless there are some groups in society for whom the harms are well documented, especially children and the unborn child. Smoking whilst pregnant, or whilst caring for children has well documented long term harms to the child. this is the activity of an adult knowingly causing harm to a child. I cannot see the difference between this and child abuse in any other form. Any measures to decrease the ease with which any individual can choose to smoke surely will ultimately have an effect on those who are doing harm to others.

  53. jhaaglund said,

    March 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I’m not sure I completely buy the idea that getting rid of cigarette displays would decrease the number of people *starting* smoking. Is there any actual evidence (say from countries that have already introduced such measures) that it leads to less people taking up smoking? Or even more people quitting who already smoke?

    @thegingerscouser, if you want to come across as reasonable, it might be an idea to stop calling people sociopaths for disagreeing with you. Like it or not, a sizeable proportion of the population does think that adults have the right to make unwise choices about their own health. If that many of people are sociopaths, we have bigger problems than fag packets to be worrying about.

    In fact, the idea that people have the right to make unwise choices is a principle of the Mental Capacity act, a key piece of legislation that has major implications for how we look at dealing with people who may or may not be able to make informed decisions. It’s hardly a mark of a sociopathic disregard for human life, empathy means, fundamentally, acknowledging and respecting other people’s feelings, it’s hard to reconcile that with completely taking decisions about a person’s own body out of their hands.

  54. jhaaglund said,

    March 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Ah, just saw paddyfool’s post above, if there’s evidence that banning public displays could lead to a reduction in kids starting smoking, I’m all for it.

  55. Diawl Bach said,

    March 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    As jhaaglund says the mental capacity act is important legislation surrounding peoples right to make choices. I hope you understand that I am only being deliberately provocative when I say that those suffering from an addictive illness cannot be deemed to have capacity to make decisions about their addiction, and therefore shouldn’t be able to buy fags under this legislation.

  56. johnnye87 said,

    March 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    So the closer to white the packaging is, the safer people think the contents are?

    Am I missing something, or is that a pretty strong argument against changing the packaging to plain white?

  57. Midori said,

    March 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    just started reading here – it is obvious that cigarettes will never be banned – but all our respective governments could make purchasing cigarettes as awkward as possible – here some ideas:

    – only sell in huge quantities (100 +) – this would make it more difficult for kids to purchase, as more money would be required upfront, and temptation might be less
    – ban small boxes, only sell cigarettes in boxes that are really awkward to carry around/hide, etc. – that should deter a good few people
    – ban the boxes altogether, just sell in loose quantities over 100 (may not be feasible, but again would make things really awkward)
    – restrict the hours during which you can buy cigarettes (they do that here in Ireland with alcohol, why not with cigarettes? For example, you could only buy them between 9 pm and midnight, and never on Sundays or something)

    Just putting it out there…

  58. paddyfool said,

    March 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Just realised I flatly contradicted myself between paragraphs in post #50 (I did a little research double-check on the opinion given in the second paragraph that there was no evidence for removing displays, found that there was some sort of evidence, and daftly stuck a description of it in the third paragraph rather than correcting the second).

  59. dslick said,

    March 22, 2011 at 6:59 am

    I get that packaging influences which brand of cigarettes a person buys, but I don’t see how that relates in any causal way to whether they smoke or not, or how much they smoke. I imagine that serious nicotine addicts would continue to buy cigarettes even if you packaged them in feces. I suppose it could be possible that some people may assume that they can smoke more “light” cigarettes than regular ones and so it may have some small effect on how many cigarettes some people smoke, but I seriously doubt it. If we want to do something useful with standardizing packaging, how about using colors, patterns and symbols that are associated with danger (e.g., similar to common warning/danger signs), or just make the warning label cover the entire package except for the brand name.

  60. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 23, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Basically, if children can’t see cigarettes in the shop then they won’t think of asking for them. Although helpfully, shops that sell tobacco currently have a big sign saying that children aren’t allowed. I wonder if that’ll go.

    Pack size isn’t relevant there, when children buy cigarettes from shops it’s one or two at a time for their pocket money – I believe I’ve seen it done in front of me, although it didn’t occur to me at first that that was what was going on.

  61. Jon d said,

    March 26, 2011 at 1:59 am

    You’ve completely skipped over the reason the light/mild brands were brought to market. as you might have said yourself at one time – it’s a bit more complicated than that.

    Seems to me you’ve gone off on one without eliminating an obvious hypothesis – that the tobacco companies created low tar brands in response to government regulation and consumer advice, which in the 70’s and 80’s was to mark cig packets into high/medium/low tar categories (based on the results from those smoking machine trials we now know to be flawed) and print a government health warning panel advising people to switch to a lower tar brand.

    I suspect there’s actually been a fascinating interaction between consumer, government and tobacco manufacturer over the past 40 or so years.

    TBH the blank packaging initiatives seem to be mostly based on politicians whims rather than evidence – the sort of thing I’d normally expect you to be railing against.

  62. artguy said,

    March 30, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Back when I was a smoker (over 7 years ago) and I ran out of cigarettes, I would smoke whatever cigarettes I could lay my hands on, regardless of what was on the packet.
    I don’t think removing displays or plain packaging is a solution to the smoking problem.
    Smoking is drug addiction and the solution to the problem is not more drugs. For some really bad science look no further than the clinical trials that demonstrate efficacy for NRT. John Polito does an excellent job of exposing this sham on his hugely popular website WhyQuit.org
    What is a real shame is how the medical profession has been duped into pushing this nonsense for big pharma.
    The solution to the smoking problem is education, and I am not talking about the health facts about smoking, every smoker knows it is bad for them and that wont stop them. The information they need to understand is why they do smoke, not why they shouldn’t. Allen Carr provides that information in a way smokers will relate to. He removes the perception in the smokers mind that there are any genuine benefits to “give up.” His last book “Scandal” is a must read easywayseminars.co.nz/images/stories/SCANDAL_by_Allen_Carr.pdf

  63. UselessFactoidCollector said,

    April 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Check out the Wikipedia entry for Plain Cigarette Packaging
    from Australia …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plain_cigarette_packaging It includes
    sources such as BMJ aricle and The Case for Plain Packaging of
    Tobacco Products, Freeman et al. Instead of minimalist trendy
    packaging Australia has gone for minimalist branding (i.e. just
    brand name and variant name with no logos) and the rest of the
    package taken up by large gruesome photos of blind eyeballs,
    gangrenous feet etc. It is likely to be effective from 1 Jan 2012.
    I think quite a lot of the focus on plain or gruesome packaging is
    to reduce initial take up as opposed to making existing users give
    up. As another poster said, it can’t hurt.

  64. hatter said,

    April 13, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I’m expecting the packaging changes to fail as has everything else done so far.

    @thatgingerscouser by your logic we should ban a lot of things, perhaps everything. We wouldn’t want anyone doing anything that potentially kill them, thus hurting the people that love them.

  65. Jeffuk said,

    April 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    At the end of the day, there is one clear sign that this WILL reduce the number of people buying tobacco products, as such I’m in favour of it.

    If it wasn’t going to reduce their sales, the shopkeepers and tobacco industry wouldn’t be complaining; they know their market better than any external analyst.

  66. jenw83 said,

    June 1, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    There is a recent study out of England that tracts kids attitude towards smoking and their association with ads at the point of sale campaign. www.dailyrx.com/news-article/hiding-danger-kids-are-safer-10680.html