Wednesday 2 October 2013

That Irish plain packs study

Last week I wrote about the latest plain packs study which is the same as all the other plain pack studies, ie. it's a survey that asks teenagers whether they think ugly packs look ugly.

I'm very grateful to a reader who has managed to prise this unpublished effort from the hands of the state-funded charities that commissioned it. I won't say it makes for fascinating reading, but there are some telling moments which undermine the already-weak claims made on its behalf.

As with other surveys of this kind, it is clear that the teenagers questioned are no fools. They understand why people of their age smoke better than the campaigners, and they know it is not because of the colour schemes on the packs. If asked whether they think the 'plain' packs look worse than existing packs, they say that they do. Anyone would. The question that campaigners have never come close to answering is whether making the packs look worse will put people off smoking. The experience with graphic warnings suggests that it won't—because it hasn't—and there are plenty of clues in the surveys themselves to confirm this.

For example, this new Irish study finds that brand awareness amongst both never-smokers and smoking "enthusiasts" (their word for occasional//social smokers) was low. Amongst the enthusiasts, brand recognition was "generally limited. Most tended to stick with initially trialled brands or whatever friends were purchasing." Amongst never-smokers, awareness was "limited to what family members or friends smoked." So much for the appeal of 'glitzy' packaging. Awareness of brands was only high amongst teens who were already regular, daily smokers, which is what you would expect from regular consumers of any product. There is no evidence here that brands play any part in smoking initiation.

It is clear that the brands that teens buy when they start smoking are those which are cheapest, nor those with the 'glitziest' packaging (the latter tend to be more expensive):

When it comes to choosing which cigarette brand to purchase, price is ultimately the deciding factor  for teens and most will automatically choose the cheapest irrespective of whether it is their first choice.

The teens rejected a number of 'glitzy' packs because they associated them with older people:

The gold of Superkings and Benson and Hedges was seen as giving the brands an old fashioned feel. The pale yellow and blue of Camel packs was deemed to cheapen the product

Whereas the cigarettes they actually smoked are not glitzy and are considered to be quite unattractive even by those who buy them: spending power means most have to settle for realistic, affordable choices rather than their desired luxury brands. Examples of brands that fall within this category include Mayfair and Amber Leaf tobacco. Both brands were the most widely smoked brands by the teens who took part in the focus groups. The packaging for both of these brands was generally considered to be cheap looking and poorer quality. Amber Leaf was described as old fashioned, with cheap looking on pack imagery, garish yellow colours and packaging style being the primary drivers of this impression. Mayfair packaging was considered plain and dull.

Not going very well, is it?

Moreover, the teenagers are pretty realistic about what will happen if plain packs come in:

Enthusiasts and regulars suggest that they will eventually become desensitised to the on pack messages and many claim they will just purchase tins/personalised boxes to carry their cigarettes in.    

And they have legitimate concerns about the illicit market—unsurprising considering that Ireland is Western Europe's capital of black market tobacco:

There was a general sense of mistrust that standardised packaging afforded shopkeepers/cigarette manufacturers greater potential to replace more expensive cigarettes with cheaper versions and use poorer quality tobacco.

"You could ask for a box of John Player Blue, but they could be giving you those fake cigarettes or Mayfair and you would never know" (Male,  Regular,  C2D)

You can see why the campaigners want to keep this survey under wraps. There are some pretty smart kids over there in Ireland who can see what's afoot. What a shame that anti-smoking zealots aren't as canny as teenagers.


proglodyte said...

Ever get the impression that they're trying to un-invent teenagers?

Anonymous said...

... many claim they will just purchase tins/personalised boxes to carry their cigarettes in.

This is what I expect to see in the UK, a reversion to the cigarette cases of the 1920s. In a cheaper and probably less stylish format of course.

Is the study going to be published?


Anonymous said...

> ... many claim they will just purchase
> tins/personalised boxes to carry their
> cigarettes in.

I've been waiting for this to happen for years.

When I was a kid, one of the most attractive things about cigarettes was the metal cigarette cases my grandad used to use.

Plain packaging could really encourage uptake if it brings snazzy cigarette cases back into fashion.

Ivan D said...

It isn't just the zealots who are hopelessly intellectually outclassed by the teenagers. Ireland is governed by people who think that having an obsessive idiot as the nations health minister is an acceptable thing.