This report explores the role that packaging plays for tobacco products. It was written by Allison Ford at the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Stirling. The Centre is core funded by Cancer Research UK. Ford is also a member of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies which is funded from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute of Health Research, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.
The report purports to examine packaging from the viewpoint of marketing and the tobacco industry, and 'young peoples' attitude to cigarette packaging. When the report came out, it was press-released in such a way that it produced headlines such as
- Designer packs being used to lure new generation of smokers
- Tobacco companies resorting to slick presentation to lure kids
Unfortunately the report tells a completely different story to the press release that resulted from it.
Out of date data
Parts of the report are misleading in that they use out of date data. For example on page "9" (11th page) they have a picture of 20 Mayfair cigarettes with a flash of £4.92 on the top corner to demonstrate Price Marked Packs (PMP). At the time of publication, 20 Mayfair cigarettes were £6.49
Most of the paper up to page 26(28th) is largely re-hashing and selective quoting of previous studies and papers that go back to 1961, including Wakefield et al. (2000) which itself quotes form papers in the 1950s.
The actual study
The new data the report presents starts on page 27(29) with the comment
Given that there has been little 'previous qualitative plain packaging research' and that focus groups (what people think when they're told what to think) are not a good indicator to what people will actually do, this raises the first problem with the research - it's measuring what people think they'll do; not what they actually will do. From the same section:
Since plain packaging hasn't (yet) been tried out in real-life anywhere yet, all of these experiments are mere speculation. Nevertheless, since the anti-smokers use studies such as this to promote plain packaging, it should at least try to indicate that plain packaging would make a difference.
As is usual with such cohort studies, there was a small number of participants - 6 groups of 8. From later comments (section 22.214.171.124) it is alluded that all participants were from Scotland.
Since (one of) the purpose(s) of the study was to gauge the effect of current packaging on encouraging young people to smoke, one would have thought that if they wanted to, they could easily find (one presumes,) 24 15 yr old smokers to participate.
Sadly, since they couldn't get the sample they wanted they proceeded to speculate the numbers in their favour:
Still not the half they wanted.
First they talked about packaging in general, using vaguely the same criteria in London Economics (2012) - low/mid/premium brands of toiletries, sweets, drinks.
They then moved onto cigarettes, with currently available brands and a made up brand 'Kerrods' which represented a plain packet (dark brown.)
Eight further boxes with different methods of opening and shapes, but decorated as 'plain packs' were also introduced.
'Grouping' exercises were carried out, grouping the non-tobacco products by categories such as appealing/unappealing. This was followed by a similar exercise (after discussion) with the branded packs plus Kerrods.
Due to 'time constraints' one of the activities (the 'show cards' where statements such as stylish/not stylish, cool/uncool) was only half completed by all the groups - each group only went through half the cards.
Finally the 'grouping' exercise was carried out using the plain packs.
Discussions were ongoing throughout the exercises.
So despite the assumption that cigarette packaging is aimed, at least partially, at younger people, Ford seems to have found 48 of them where there is 'generally little awareness of [...] tobacco packaging' apart from the one they see friends and family smoking.
Perhaps Ford could have chosen some better known brands rather than picking obscure ones such as - ah - they're not explicitly listed. I assume among them are the ones mentioned as asides:
It would be difficult to find less obscure ones to be honest.
Pack's rôle in youth smoking
Again, another conclusion that packaging is irrelevant to encouraging younger people to smoke.
Could that be because they hadn't seen them before? Aren't these supposed to be everywhere so the 'younger people' can see them and buy them? Apparently not.
Method of opening
Again - if the packaging is so important to getting young people to take up smoking, how come Ford found 48 young people who'd never seen them before?
Unless, of course, as shown above it's on a packet of cigarettes.
Plain pack perceptions
They almost had it at the end there, but they ignored it. 48 15 year-olds can't tell the difference between normal packs and a plain pack because they don't know what the normal packs look like.
Plain packs differing in shape and size
Strength and harm
Something's not right here - earlier on, when describing the methodology Ford said:
Either the legally required markings (such as tar content) were there, or they weren't.
Emotional pack responses
But as previously pointed out, they don't know about the packaging - at least not until this experiment that is.
Importance of packaging for tobacco products
It's interesting that Ford chose to include this quote.
- The packaging of tobacco products
- http://www.webcitation.org/67DvLoLSU Archive of Tesco's website for Mayfair cigarettes