Wednesday 27 January 2016

Plain packaging for food and drink - the vultures circle

A quick round up of news from half way down the slippery slope. First, from the Canadian Journal of Public Health...

Alcohol warning label perceptions: Emerging evidence for alcohol policy.


Patterns of alcohol and cigarette use and abuse can be considered parallels due to their similar social, biological and epidemiological implications. Therefore, the cross-fertilization of policy research, including health warnings evidence, is justified. The objective of this study was to apply the lessons learned from the tobacco health warnings and plain packaging literature to an alcohol packaging study and test whether labelling alters consumer perceptions.


Ninety-two adults were exposed to four labelling conditions of bottles for a famous brand of each of wine, beer and hard liquor. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four labelling conditions: standard, text warning, text and image warning, or text and image warning on a plain bottle. Participants then expressed their product-based (i.e., evaluation of the products) and consumer-based (i.e., evaluation of potential consumers of the products) perceptions in relation to each label condition and were asked to recognize the correct health warning.


As expected, participants perceived bottles with warnings less positively as compared to standard bottles in terms of product-based and consumer-based perceptions: plain bottles showed the most consistent statistically significant results, followed by text and image warnings, and then text warnings in pair-wise comparisons with the standard bottles. Some support for the impact of plain packaging on warning recognition was also found.


Unlike previous studies, this study reveals that health warnings, if similar to those on cigarette packs, can change consumer-based and product-based perceptions of alcohol products. The study reveals the importance of serious consideration of stringent alcohol warning policy research.

Secondly, from a forthcoming obesity conference...

Effects Of Plain Packaging, Warning Labels, And Taxes On Young People's Preferences For Sugar-sweetened Beverages: Results From An Online Experimental Study

Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) is associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dental caries.

Our aim was to assess effects of plain packaging, warning labels, and a 20% tax on SSB preferences, beliefs and purchase probabilities amongst young people. A 2 x 3 x 2 between-group experimental study was undertaken, via an anonymous online survey. 604 young New Zealanders aged 13-24 years who consumed soft drinks regularly were recruited. Participants were randomly allocated to view one of 12 experimental conditions, specifically images of branded versus plain packaged SSBs, with either no warning, a text warning, or a graphic warning, and with or without a 20% tax. Perceptions of the allocated SSB product and of those who might consume the product were measured using seven-point Likert scales. Purchase probabilities were measured using 11-point Juster scales.

All three intervention scenarios had a significant negative effect on preferences for SSBs... Plain packaging and warning labels could significantly reduce adolescents’ and young adults’ preferences for and likelihood to purchase SSBs, and are therefore likely to reduce consumption.

And then there's this from Food Quality and Preference...

Public policy makers have recently recommended deactivating the marketing functions of unhealthy food packaging by enforcing the use of plain food packaging.

That can't be right, surely? Those good, honest public health professionals promised this would never happen.

Tragically, the Food Quality and Preference study found that plain packaging for snacks made people consume more of them. Perhaps that explains why cigarette sales rose after plain packaging was introduced in Australia.

Never mind though. I'm sure future studies will iron out that little problem and come to the 'right' conclusion, as the studies into booze and soft drinks above did.

The evidence is starting to mount isn't it, nonsmokers? Soon it will be 'overwhelming' and politicians will be forced to act. I can hardly wait to to see the look on your faces when you finally realise that freedom is indivisible.

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