University of OtagoWednesday 10 October 2012, 11:34AM
Media release from University of Otago
Two research studies led by University of Otago researchers have
challenged tobacco companies' claims about plain packaging.
Both studies were conducted by the ASPIRE2025 research group, which
includes Professors Janet Hoek and Phil Gendall working from
Otago's Department of Marketing, and Professor Richard Edwards from
the University's Department of Public Health (Wellington).
The first study involved a survey of 418 smokers and 418
non-smokers in New Zealand and was carried out in March 2012. The
study has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal
of Public Health.
Professor Hoek says the survey found strong support for plain
"Overall, more than two-thirds of respondents supported plain
packaging. It's important to note that we undertook the survey
before the current debate over plain packaging, so this estimate
shows very high instinctive support for a policy that people had
heard little about at the time," she says.
Professor Hoek notes that when legislation introducing smoke-free
bars and restaurants was passed in 2003, surveys showed support
levels of around 35%. Since then, however, support has grown
significantly. Now well over 80% of New Zealanders support
smokefree bars and restaurants.
"Support for many tobacco control policies increases once they have
been implemented and people experience their benefits. Support for
plain packaging is already very high, but we would expect it to
increase even further as the issues are debated and after plain
packs are introduced."
Professor Gendall says that although tobacco companies argue that
packaging simply encourages brand switching, the survey found only
29% of smokers agreed that was the case, while 44% disagreed.
"These findings tell us smokers don't buy the argument that
packaging encourages them to switch brands. That's because smokers
know that they are extremely brand loyal and attached to their
preferred brand, and very unlikely to switch to other brands," he
Professor Edwards says the survey also shows very low support for
the tobacco industry's argument that plain packaging is unfair
because it would prevent them from using their brands and
"Including both smokers and non-smokers, only 20% of respondents
agreed that plain packaging would be unfair, and nearly three times
as many disagreed with this proposition. The public have clearly
seen through tobacco companies' claims and have little sympathy for
The second study, published recently in BMC Public Health, found
tobacco packaging communicated very powerful brand identities to
young adult smokers and non-smokers. Smokers and non-smokers alike
were able to identify clear brand personalities for both familiar
and unfamiliar cigarette brands.
Professor Hoek says these findings show that packaging performs the
same functions as advertising.
"It communicates positive and aspirational attributes about
cigarette brands and we know from other work we've conducted that
young people find these attributes very attractive."
The study also included an American brand called Basic, with little
in the way of brand imagery, unlike typical New Zealand tobacco
brands, which feature extensive branding. Both smokers and
non-smokers saw Basic as only 'budget' and 'plain'.
"Removing brand imagery eliminates positive brand personalities
that attract young people to smoking. Because plain packaging is
not simply plain but unattractive, we expect these negative
attribute associations to increase and smoking to become even less
attractive with plain packaging," says Professor Gendall.
Professor Hoek also points out that New Zealand has signed up to
the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco
Control (FCTC), which requires the removal of all tobacco
marketing, promotion and sponsorship.
"Findings from these studies show that current cigarette packaging
acts as advertising and tell us that New Zealand must implement
plain packaging if it is to eliminate tobacco marketing and meet
its FCTC obligations.
"The studies also show exceptional public support for this measure.
Plain packaging would be both a logical and popular next step
towards achieving a smokefree New Zealand by 2025," she says.