Plain packaging putting schoolkids off smoking

But tobacco companies finding other ways to make cigarettes appealing

Wednesday 11th September 2019

Plain-packaging for tobacco products is helping put young people off smoking – but manufacturers are finding other ways to make the health-damaging habit appealing to adolescents.

A study by researchers at Stirling university found exciting product names and different physical shape of packets are being used to appeal to youngsters. 

Health warnings, says researcher Danielle Mitchell, were ‘constantly referred’ to by focus groups of 16 and 17-year olds, who found the new consistent design ‘embarrassing’ and ‘off-putting’.

Words like ‘bland’ and ‘dull’ were used to describe the dirt-brown colour of the packaging.

However in one of the first studies looking at consumer reactions to standardised packaging researchers found other ways of making smoking seem ‘cool’ were being used.

Some participants, mostly males, said product names like Legendary Black sounded ‘more cool’ or were a way of ‘reminiscing’ about branded packaging.

The 2017 change in the law mandating standardised packaging, Ms Mitchell explains, prompted tobacco companies to turn to an ‘increased focus’ on product names with colours.

While adjectives like light, mild or smooth that suggest reduced harm are banned, words like ‘blue’ are still used to convey a less harsh experience.

And different shapes for the packs – including slimline boxes, ones with rounded edges or a shoulder-top lid in which the front opens like a book – were found to be more appealing.

Although the latter type is not currently used in the UK it is permitted under legislation.

One young woman participating in the study said of the slimline packets: “That’s slightly more attractive than the thicker ones [packs], but then it wouldn’t attract me, but it maybe is a bit prettier and thinner than the big massive one [pack]”.

In the UK and many European countries that implemented standardised packaging, package variations are permitted.

But Australia, the first country to clamp down on packaging, only allows straight edge packs with standard lids.