Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Packaging and Public Health

How does packaging influence consumer attitudes? This is an especially vital question for public health officials trying to reduce the health consequences of smoking. In several nations, regulators are either implementing or considering rules that would prevent tobacco marketers from using eye-catching colors and graphics on cigarette packaging--or allow branding but require extremely large and graphic warning labels, like those below.

Australia instituted plain packaging for cigarettes six months ago, and one study early in the process suggests the change may be influencing smokers' attitudes.

Compared with smokers who had purchased cigarettes in branded, marketing-oriented packaging, smokers who had purchased plain packages were 66% more likely to think their cigarettes were of lesser quality than a year ago. Plain-package smokers were also 70% more likely to report lower satisfaction with their cigarettes. 

What's more, consumers found plain packaging even less appealing than packaging bearing graphic warning labels. "From a larger public health perspective, the aim of plain packaging is to reduce the appeal of branding — to make the health warnings stand out more," explains Professor Wakefield of Cancer Council Victoria in Australia.

Canada was the first nation to mandate graphic warning labels on cigarette packages. U.S. law puts tobacco products under the jurisdiction of the FDA, which is pushing for graphic warnings, but legal challenges from tobacco marketers have stalled implementation. Meanwhile, research indicates that "occasional smokers" would be the most influenced by graphic warnings on cigarette packaging, because they may not be aware of the health risks and might be open to the idea of quitting.

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