NEW cigarette plain packaging laws could “emotionally harm” smokers and make it more difficult to stop, according to an academic.
In May last year the EU passed a new law, requiring all cigarette packaging to have a uniform “drab olive” colour, the same size and feature even larger graphic health warnings.
Dr Thomas Anker – a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Glasgow – says they have “been found to create severe feelings of self-blame and disgust which, in turn, cause stigmatisation of smokers”.
He added: “For some, the feeling of blame and stigmatisation creates an emotional state of disempowerment, which reinforces the belief that it is impossible to stop smoking.
“These side effects are not justified because they are not outweighed by other benefits of the new plain packaging rules.
“In such cases, plain packaging does not only create emotional harm without sufficient justification, it is quite frankly counterproductive.”
Discussing the alleged “benefits” of plain packaging, he says: “No studies have managed to establish a link between plain packaging and actual quitting behaviours sustained over time.”
When the same law came into effect in 2012 in Australia – he said – quit-line calls did increase to 78%, but after four months they had tailed off to their old levels.
He concludes: “Given the lack of behavioural evidence and the serious unintended consequences, the introduction of tobacco plain packaging in the UK is an ill-advised decision, which is most likely not to have a significant impact on one of our biggest public health challenges.”
But his claims were rejected by health campaigners.
Sheila Duffy – chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland said: “The issue of stigma is important to us – we don’t think smokers should be stigmatised.
“Picture health warnings are a shock tactic, and likely to work positively for some and negatively for others. Research into Australian TV ads suggested that shocking messages about health harms were effective in motivating smokers to think about quitting, and more effective when followed up with supportive messages about where to get help.
“However plain packs is a measure not aimed at existing adult smokers – the restriction of packs to unappealing background colours and plain fonts, and the omission of glitzy images is aimed at breaking the brand recognition tobacco companies seek to build with future consumers from a very young age.
“Research shows that most adult smokers stick with one brand and if they change it is due to price. Young people experimenting with cigarettes, however, tend to be very brand and image conscious.
“It will take time before we see the impacts of this measure, but it is well worth doing.”
Under the new law the only way to differentiate between makes will be the brand name – written in non stylised font.
The rules kicked in across the country last Friday – but the new packages are currently a rare sight, as shops are still being allowed to sell off their old stock.