Plain packs and larger graphic health warnings cause smokers to put their packs away

Friday 17 January, 2014

Smokers are less willing to display their packs in public and smoke in outdoor areas since plain packaging was introduced, new research has found.

The Cancer Council Victoria research, published in Addiction journal today, aimed to evaluate whether cigarette pack display (packs visible on tables) and smoking at outdoor venues changed following the introduction of plain packaging and larger graphic health warnings in December 2012.

Researchers counted patrons, smokers and tobacco packs at cafes, restaurants and bars with outdoor seating for several months both before and after the introduction of plain packaging.

They found that pack display on tables declined by 15% after plain packaging, which was mostly due to a 23% decline in the percentage of patrons who were observed smoking.

The study also found that the declines in pack display and patrons observed smoking were stronger in venues where children were present.  

A relatively small proportion took steps to conceal packs that would otherwise be visible by covering them with wallets, phones or other items and this increased after plain packaging.

Quit Victoria Executive Director Fiona Sharkie said plain packaging and the larger graphic health warnings meant smokers did not want to advertise their habit.

“Your cigarette pack used to be an expression of who you were and now it’s an expression of what is going to happen to you,” she said.

“So it’s no surprise that smokers don’t want to make that statement to people around them.” 

Ms Sharkie said cigarette packs had become the primary source of the Quitline number for callers following the introduction of plain packaging.

“So we know that smokers are looking at their packs and thinking about quitting,” she said.

“Smokers are now less willing to light up in a public place and more likely to hide their pack.  This is further proof that fully branded cigarette packs really were mini-billboards to promote smoking and they’re no longer a badge to be worn proudly.

“Australian children are now less likely to be exposed to adults modelling smoking and to promotion of tobacco products in day-to-day life. And on those occasions when children do see cigarettes, the packaging now reflects the grim reality of disfiguring illness and life cut short by smoking.”

About the research:

Between October and April 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, researchers counted patrons, smokers, and tobacco packs at cafés, restaurants, and bars with outdoor seating in Melbourne and Adelaide. Pack type (fully-branded, plain, or unknown) and orientation were noted. Rates of pack display, patrons observed smoking, and pack orientation were analysed. Overall, 18,954 patrons, 1,576 active smokers (8.3% of patrons), and 2,153 packs were observed before plain packaging, meaning 1 in every 8.8 patrons displayed a pack.  After plain packaging, 16,286 patrons, 1,070 active smokers (6.6% of patrons) and 1,639 packs were observed; meaning 1 in every 10 patrons displayed a pack.  The proportion of packs concealed by a wallet, phone or other item went from 4.0% of fully branded packs to 9.5% of plain packs.  The study was funded by Cancer Council Victoria, Cancer Council South Australia, and Quit Victoria.

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