Direct evidence on the effects of plain packaging on cigarette demands is impossible to obtain since the policy measure has never been tried. I am preparing some work on plain packaging and found useful insights either directly (or indirectly by following related web links) from this excellent Guardian article by Ben Goodacre.
As is well known the empirical evidence on the effects of marketing on cigarettes is mixed although the best studies – e.g. the 1981 study of Lewit, Coate and Grossman – do suggest significant effects of marketing on (particularly) youth smoking. Later studies confirm the general proposition.
This article provides a review of the case for plain packaging. The effects of plain packaging reduce the flair and appeal of smoking to the young, reduce the ability of brands to appeal to particular types of people and intensify the impact of health warnings.
This Canadian study by Hammond and Parkinson of 312 adult smokers and 291 non-smokers suggests:
“Respondents were significantly more likely to rate packages with the terms ‘light’, ‘mild’, ‘smooth’ and ‘silver’ as having a smoother taste, delivering less tar and lower health risk compared with ‘regular’ and ‘full flavor’ brands. Respondents also rated packages with lighter colors and a picture of a filter as significantly more likely to taste smooth, deliver less tar and lower risk. Smokers were significantly more likely than non- smokers to perceive brands as having a lower health risk, while smokers of light and mild cigarettes were significantly more likely than other smokers to perceive brands as smoother and reducing risk. Perceptions of taste were significantly associated with perceptions of tar level and risk” (my bold).
Many good references in this source too and a strong convincing case for plain packaging.
This industry study for Imperial Tobacco - a report that must not be “Copied or Shown to Unauthorized Persons” – shows the legal carcinogen producers are well aware of the importance of brand design on demand. Color and design of a package influence the sensory perceptions of smoking a cigarette. No question that the carcinogen producers would lose a lot with plain packaging:
“Consumers purchase tobacco products with specific names and package designs, that is, they buy brands. Brand name and pack design are usually extensively researched to ensure that the connotations associated with each and with the combination elicit the appropriate expectations from the target’. (p2)
This 1992 study of 568 adolescent children finds that plain packaging makes remaining health warnings more vivid. Again plain packaging works:
“A survey was conducted with 568 adolescent children (average age 13) to investigate the possible effects upon perceptions of health warnings when cigarettes are presented in plain packaging. A measure of unaided recall was used to reflect participants’ attention to the assortment of cues presented on cigarette packs. The presentation of health warnings in the context of plain packs achieved a significantly greater recall rate as opposed to brand packs. When less brand image cues were presented, respondents were able to perceive and recall with more accuracy a greater proportion of ‘non-image’ information” (my bold).
This finding is, of course, intuitive but experimental confirmation is useful. (1455)