Reducing cigarette smoking through health graphics and standardised packaging – will it work?
Towards the end of 2012 the Australian government introduced new rules which stipulate that all cigarettes should be packaged in brown packets with large graphics and only a small area for the brand name which needs to be presented in standardized text. Wakefield and colleagues recently published a paper in the BMJ evaluating the effects of the introduction of plain packaging on smokers' attitudes and intentions to quit.
4004 people were randomly contacted by telephone and from that sample they identified 572 smokers who participated in the study. Of those 72.3 % used plain packet cigarettes and 27.7% used the old branded packets.
Wakefield and his colleagues found that when compared with people who smoked from branded packets, plain packet smokers were twice as likely to report that they had thought about quitting and they rated quitting as a higher priority in their life; however, there was no difference in intention to quit between the two groups. Sheeran and Webb (2002) completed a large meta-analysis on behaviour intentions and behaviour change and found that even a medium to large change in intention only leads to a small to medium change in behaviours. So, given we have seen no difference in intention to change among plain packaging smokers, will we see a change in smoking-related behaviours? It is very early days so further research will be needed to answer this question.
Interestingly, plain packet smokers perceived their cigarettes to be of lower quality and less satisfying than a year ago, surely that is a positive outcome but again will it translate to a change in smoking-related behaviour?
Behavioural economics theory suggests that people are more likely to react to a message if it is salient, i.e. if their attention is drawn to it. The health graphics on the new packaging have been changed to be more prominent and perhaps more salient but, interestingly, there was no difference in the thoughts about the harms of cigarettes between the two groups. Perhaps that is because they are already aware of the harms of smoking or perhaps because they have been exposed to many of these images so they are no longer novel and salient.
This study is the one of the first to review the introduction of this new policy and provides some useful insights into the differences in attitudes between the two groups. In time, it will be interesting to see if these attitudes translate to a change in behaviour and reduction in smoking.
Link to full article
Article by Sheeran and Webb -
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