Monday 23 September 2013

Ireland's secret study

The campaign for plain packaging in Ireland moved forward in a predictable way last week with yet another yawnsome survey of kids being presented as exciting new evidence. As in numerous other previous efforts, children were shown cigarette packs and asked leading questions. Details of the 'research' are thin on the ground, but it is safe to say that the kiddies said they found the 'plain' packs less appealing than normal packs. As ever, this tells us nothing about what effect, if any, plain packaging will have on underage smoking prevalence. After all these years of tiresome campaigning for this daft policy, no one has presented a shred of evidence showing that people start smoking because of a colour scheme on a box.

From the press release:

Cigarette branding encourages teenagers to start smoking but non-smokers would be discouraged from even trying them and current smokers would quit if cigarettes came from ‘plain packs’, according to 15-16 year olds who participated in new research published today (Thursday, September 19th).

This is a straightforward lie. There is nothing in a survey of this kind that could possibly prove any of these three assertions.

Launching the research, Minister James Reilly said: ‘It is not acceptable that a product that kills 5,200 Irish people every year is packaged in a slim, pink container that strongly resembles perfume or lipstick.’

He's talking about cigarettes like those below, which are aimed at women rather than children. This is the standard picture of 'glitzy' cigs used by plain packaging lobbyists. It would be very interesting to know how many minors actually buy these brands. The eye-catching pack with the multi-colour cigarettes is called Sobrani Cocktail apparently. I know this because my mum remembers them from the 1960s. She's never smoked, but I smoked for twenty years and never saw them on sale. How many children smoke them? I would guess around zero.

How many children smoke the other 'glitzy' brands? That would be a research question worth asking. If young people are disproportionately more likely to buy cigarettes that 'strongly resemble perfume', that would be help the plain pack campaigners' cause. They have never conducted research of this kind and I suspect that the results would go against them. The reality is that minors who want to smoke will smoke whatever cigarettes they can get hold of.

The findings show that although finances and price prevent teenagers from purchasing premium brands of cigarettes, appealing packaging has the power to generate buzz, provide the incentive to purchase and can communicate perceived benefits of smoking one brand over another.

Hang on, what was that?

The findings show that although finances and price prevent teenagers from purchasing premium brands of cigarettes...

So the 'glitzy' packs are too expensive for kids to buy? What, then, is the point of plain packaging?

Barnardos Chief Executive, Fergus Finlay, said that the research shows that without regulation, children are being enticed to start smoking through colour, pack shape and text. “Children and young people find certain brands more appealing than others, whether it’s sports gear, phones, bags or make-up, and that’s because marketing works.”

That's how advertising works, perhaps. Brands are built up by advertising, but there is no advertising for tobacco and hasn't been for a very long time. Without advertising to create brand image, a logo is just a logo and a colour is just a colour.

“Cigarette companies know this and have become masters of marketing by using packets to make smoking appealing to children. Their success is evidenced by the fact that children start smoking in Ireland at a younger age than any other country in Europe.”

Are cigarette packs more 'glitzy' in Ireland than in the rest of the EU? Certainly not. Unlike most EU countries, Irish fag packets have large graphic warnings on them. Blaming Ireland's high rate of underage smoking on glitzy packets is a non sequitur.

Ms. Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Whilst Ireland has been a world leader in protecting the health of adults from the effects of tobacco - most notably through the workplace smoking ban – much less has been done to safeguard children which may help explain why the Irish start smoking at a younger age than any of our EU counterparts."

The young age at which smokers in Ireland take up the habit seems to be the big statistic that plain pack advocates want to remind us of in this campaign. If they had a little self-awareness, they would realise that this is a damning indictment of all previous tobacco control measures. I've written before about the abject failure of tobacco control in the Emerald Isle. This is the country that has fallen hook, line and sinker for every half-witted anti-smoking policy put forward by the quackademics of public health. Despite this—or because of this—it has a high smoking rate, a massive black market in tobacco and the youngest smokers in the EU. This dismal failure should have been enough to force a rethink. Instead, they plunge towards ever more extreme policies that don't work because the people who come up with them don't understand the reasons why people smoke.

As an interesting addendum, I notice that this 'research' has not been published in any form. Indeed, according to yesterday's Sunday Times, it is being jealously guarded by this coalition of state-funded lobby groups.

The Irish Cancer Society said last week it received several phone calls from public relations agencies acting for tobacco companies seeking copies of its report on the impact of cigarette packaging.

...The society refused to hand over its research to “companies operating with a different agenda from ours”. It did not think it credible that callers claiming to be students would be seeking the report for research purposes on the day of its publication.

When would be more credible? A week before publication? A year after publication? What are they talking about?! The research should be published so that the public can see it. That's how science works. If you produce research designed to push your own 'agenda' and to guide policy, you should damn well have to show it to the people. Otherwise, we're liable to suspect that it's a piece of junk that doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny. If any readers come across this secret study, drop me a line.


Furor Teutonicus said...

XX “Cigarette companies know this and have become masters of marketing by using packets to make smoking appealing to children. Their success is evidenced by the fact that children start smoking in Ireland at a younger age than any other country in Europe.” XX

AQ pack of Marlboro is a pack of Marlboro wherever in the world you buy it. The same with ALL cigarrettes (Except for shops "Own brand" types).

So, if it WAS the packs, then the numbers of smokers would be constant all over the world.

Or are Irish children PATICULARLY thick?

(Second thoughts, treat that as rhetorical, I KNOW what MY answer to that would be. :-) :-) )

Zaphod said...

I thought Politicians were bad, but reading that article shows that we have quietly created a whole new profession of practiced slick liars, completely lacking self-awareness.

Is there now a University course in "Superficial Lying in a Good Cause"?
Where did all these polished liars spring from? What were they doing before? The Advertising industry was never as unhinged as this!

This is the biggest pile of crap I've ever seen, and I have been looking! It's so transparent, but we know that the sheep will swallow it!

Fredrik Eich said...

My mum gave me a packet of Sobrani Cocktail ciggies for Christmas a few years back. They are OK but they would not look cool while you are trying to rob someone of their dinner money at the school bus stop.

I think if you want to look cool while you beat up the other kids at school it's best to stick to a plain looking cigarette - less distracting and cheaper.

BrianB said...

I remember one or two of the girls in our crowd back in the day (the late 1960s) who would occasionally stump up an exorbitant sum of money for a (wooden) box of Sobranie Cocktails. They did it to appear 'flash', which smoking their usual (cheap) No.6 or (even cheaper) No. 10 wouldnn't have done.

What was good for them, though, is that the things had such a repulsive smell (think burning camel dung) that no-one ever took them when it was their turn to 'crash the ash'. A win-win!

one of my (Conservative) MEPs (apparently I have 3 MEPs - including Nikki Sinclaire!) replied to my (Forest-generated) email regarding the TPD, but did so with a diatribe on packaging (not part of the TPD, of course). He referred to the big bad Tobacco Companies introducing packets that slide open (the horror!) to reveal their toxic contents, and that this appeals to young girls because it is like using a lipstick!

My wife was faintly amused by this, pointing out the inconvenient fact that lipstick comes in narrow cylinders and uses a twist (not slide) action to get at the contents. But then anyone living in the real world would have known that anyway.

I am formulating a suitably caustic reply to this utter cretin!