Through the haze - anti-smoking packaging measures

Packaging Professional magazine
25 Sep 2011

Earlier in the year, the Government announced it was considering the use of plain packaging as an anti-smoking measure. We asked industry members what the implications of such a move would be...

Q: Do you think that plain cigarette packaging will have any impact on the number of people who smoke?

Amanda Sandford, Research Manager at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH): ‘Research among both adults and young people shows that branded packs mislead many smokers into believing that some brands are less harmful than others. We believe that young people in particular will find cigarettes in plain packs far less attractive and will be less likely to want to buy them. A good test of the likely impact of any tobacco control measure is to see how worried the tobacco companies are, and on this, they are clearly worried.’

Simon Evans, Group Press Officer for Imperial Tobacco Ltd:
‘There is no credible research evidence to support the introduction of plain packaging. Tobacco packaging is not identified as a reason why young people choose to buy tobacco products, or why adult smokers continue to enjoy smoking or are discouraged from quitting.’

Chris Penfold, Chief Executive Officer of Design Cognition Group Ltd, an independent healthcare packaging design consultancy:
‘I don’t think that it will have any impact on [hardened] smokers but it will certainly have an impact on potential young smokers who might have ordinarily been drawn to the colourful graphics and branding of some of the wellknown brands.’

Don Williams, CEO of PI branding and design consultancy: ‘The only way someone will give up smoking is if they want to. If putting pictures of people with their throats hanging out doesn’t deter them then why will a plain carton? Perversely I can see younger consumers actually being attracted to the “contraband” nature of plain packaging...Imagine the fun they could have “pimping” their fag packets!’

Q: What are the long-term implications of the government’s move towards plain cigarette packaging?

Chris Penfold:
‘I believe that it will further alienate smokers. Suppliers and packaging designers will have to “rise to the challenge” and innovate with interesting shapes and unprinted pack features, such as easier opening and dispensing. Any changes like this could affect packing line speeds and hence cost, which will no doubt be passed on to the consumer.’

Amanda Sandford:
‘Improved health as more smokers quit and fewer children take up the habit.’

Simon Evans:
‘Packaging is a key component in the fight against counterfeit – making all tobacco products available in the same generic plain packaging would play into the hands of the criminals who seek to profit from the manufacture and sale of counterfeit product.’

Charles James, author of Guide to Packaging and Labelling Law 2011:
‘For any intelligent government the question should be whether to ban tobacco entirely, or to try to discourage its use. Plain packets are part of the process.’

Don Williams:
‘Cigarette brands spend a fortune on building visual equity... a brand name alone is not enough. Packaging was the last medium in which to utilise this equity, and when it goes, the real and very serious danger is that the brands will go too.’

Q: If it were implemented, what do you think this legislation would mean for the packaging industry?

Chris Penfold:
‘For the print industry I guess it’s not good news. However packaging will still be required and cartons will still need to be converted from sheet board, so “converters” will still have a lot of business. There [will] need to be more overt and covert anti-counterfeiting methods used, which could be good news for providers of anti-counterfeiting technology and board converters alike.’

Amanda Sandford:
‘I don’t believe it will have a major impact: cigarettes will still be produced and need to be packaged. There may be some impact on the people currently involved in the design stage, but their skills are presumably transferable.’

Simon Evans:
‘Clearly, there would be negative implications for manufacturers, retailers, our suppliers, consumers and governments. This was a point recognised in a UK Government 2008 consultation document which stated: “... plain packaging may exacerbate the illicit tobacco market as it could be easier for counterfeit products to replicate the plain packages than current tobacco packaging.”

Charles James:
‘The implications for the packaging industry are frankly unimportant – you would not promote paedophilia just so you could wrap kids in plastic wrappers.’

Don Williams: ‘Packs will still need to be printed so the effect on packaging will be minimal [but with] no more limited editions or special effects, branding and design companies who specialise in cigarettes in the UK may lose some contracts. The real losers, though, will be the brand owners who will undoubtedly struggle unless they’re extremely smart.’

Q: In your opinion, has cigarette packaging been used to trick or deceive youngsters into smoking in the past?

Chris Penfold:
‘It depends what you mean by “trick” and “deceive”. Branding has a strong impact and “pull” for people of all ages and backgrounds, providing product integrity and a “story” in which consumers can believe. So I have no doubt that youngsters have found branded cigarette packaging alluring and smoking well known brands provides a sense of belonging. Moving forwards, the cigarettes themselves will still be branded, so peer pressure will still play its part in purchasing decisions.’

Amanda Sandford:
‘Yes, and it is still happening. Every cigarette pack is an advertisement for the brand. The blatant targeting of young women with the recent launch of “ultra-slim” cigarettes and associated feminine packaging design is just the most egregious example. The industry has a long history of tricking impressionable youth into believing smoking a particular brand is sophisticated, cool, or glamorous.’

Don Williams:
‘The role of branding and packaging is not to trick or deceive. Youngsters do not take up smoking because of packaging, they take up smoking because their parents smoke, their mates smoke and it’s perceived as “cool”. A cigarette brand is a badge in the same way as a pair of jeans, but the choice to start smoking has far more to do with the overall social cache than with brand.’

Q: Will this set a precedent for more restrictions on other types of packaging? If the rationale is that cigarettes are dangerous, shouldn’t other potentially harmful products also have plain packaging?

Chris Penfold:
‘That isn’t an easy one to answer. As obesity rises, there has already been talk recently about more pressure being exerted on unhealthy products, high in sugar and high in fat, probably via higher taxes but also possibly, I guess, via packaging. The question is “where do you draw the line?” There is no doubt, as our health bills escalate that something will need to be done.’

Amanda Sandford: ‘The “domino” theory has been around for decades but has not proven to be valid. Cigarettes are unique among consumer products since they harm and kill when used exactly as intended. Other potentially harmful products have to be judged on their merit and society will ultimately decide whether marketing restrictions or prohibition is justified.’

Simon Evans: ‘Plain packaging would set a dangerous legal precedent for other companies and sectors outside the tobacco sector.’

Charles James: ‘The logic of putting other substances in plain wrapping and controlling their sale is strong. How dare industry create alcopops to get kids into drinking alcohol…does no one have any shame?’

Don Williams:
‘I’m afraid that once a daft, politically correct bandwagon starts rolling, it may just snowball into other categories until we’re all eating raw lentils directly from pure, unadulterated organic soil... it’s frankly insane, where does it end?’