Over the past couple of weeks there has been a big hurrah, after the British Government shelved plans to force cigarette companies to package their goods in “plain” packages. The policy was modelled on recent Australian legislation, which requires cigarettes to be sold in green packaging, with warning labels and graphic images, and without logos or branding. In a statement, the British Department of Health said the decision to delay was made as it: “wants more time to study the impact of a similar law in Australia before deciding to press ahead with standardised cigarette packaging in England”. Well, I have two reasons why no more evidence is necessary.
Firstly; despite protestations that the laws would be ineffective, the tobacco industry has committed serious resources to fight legislation. For example, in Australia last year the fight wound up in the High Court, where the suit brought jointly by British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Phillip Morris and Japan Tobacco, was defeated. This shows that, at least in their view, the legislation threatens their industry in some way. Furthermore, and if, as alleged in last year's Australian High Court case, all plain packaging laws does is undermine intellectual property, will that not have a positive impact for society? Will it not serve to further undermine the advertising of tobacco, which so many jurisdictions around the world have already banned?
Secondly; the first research into Australia's plain packaging laws has been released, and has found the plain packaging “increases smokers' urgency to quit and lowers the appeal of smoking”. The research was carried out during the roll out of the legislation, it had a sample of 500 people, 70% of whom were smoking from the new plain packages. For one, the study confirmed what psychologists and professional chefs (amongst others) have been telling us forever: presentation counts. According to the research: “smokers with the plain packs were more likely to perceive their tobacco as being lower in both quality and satisfaction, and were more likely to think about quitting”.
Even if the only result of plain packaging is further disruption to tobacco advertising, the legislation would be worth it. But we are also already seeing research that confirms the theory behind Australia's plain packaging laws: it makes it less appealing.