A new law on tobacco packaging has been passed, but will this graphic content really stop you from smoking?
Words by Jake Stolte
When you inhale the fumes from your second cigarette of the day or when you pick up your second 20 pack of the week, do you ever stop and think about the effect and the increased risk tobacco is placing your body under or the negative contribution you’re having to society?
As of May 21st this year, tobacco companies have to follow a standardised packaging design showing graphic images of the health warnings associated with smoking, in an aim to reduce the number of smokers and those wanting to take up smoking.
Action on smoking and health
Vicky Salt, senior policy and campaigns officer at Action on smoking and health (ASH), a public health charity who were a driving force behind the original campaign to introduce plain tobacco packaging in the UK, thinks that the passing of the law to introduce plain packaging will have a positive effect on the number of people who decide to start smoking.
“In 2008 ASH’s aim was to look at the next step of implementation of smoke free legislation, the main focus was on preventing children and young adults from starting smoking.”
In order to reduce the stress on the NHS, Vicky explained that we need to focus on stopping people from smoking before they even start and that there’s evidence to prove this will be successful.
“Research undertaken by the University of Bristol showed that young people found the new plain tobacco packaging very dull and less appealing. Evidence also shows that eye fixation time on plain packs with warnings is greater than others.”
Not only is the packaging predominantly aimed at young adults, Vicky believes the packaging has a vital secondary impact of getting adult smokers to stop.
“A few detailed images isn’t going to make me change my mind on smoking.”
Vicky outlined how cancer research UK have played a pivotal role in prior prevention by working closely with ASH in the campaigning for the packaging.
“ASH works with a coalition of organizations in what is known as the smoke free coalition. Cancer research have been one of the many figure heads in numerous projects and have produced a short film on children’s reactions to the health warnings printed on the packaging which was instrumental in the campaigning process.”
The Cochrane review
A recent study known as the Cochrane review published information showing that the new packaging may reduce smoking prevalence and increase quit attempts. Vicky said this review is an indicator that the packaging will be effective.
“The Cochrane review is deemed as the gold standard in terms of assessing public health as it follows strict criteria in what studies it can include. This review shows signs of real positivity in reducing an uptake in smoking.”
Vanessa Ferreira a shop worker at a convenience store, doesn’t think this new packaging will affect current smokers.
“Since I’ve worked in this store, the same regulars come into to buy the same tobacco each week. It is clear they’re addicted. Even with this new packaging on the shelves they still come in and take no notice.”
But Vanessa said that it may have an effect on first timers.
“The packaging is very off putting, if that was me and I knew I was doing that sort of damage to my body, I’d never want to smoke in my life.”
What do the youth think?
However, 18 year old Finlay Clayton who is a current smoker and begun smoking at the age of 16, thinks that it’s too difficult to stop smoking and doesn’t believe the use of these graphic warnings on packaging will have an effect on current smokers.
“Regardless of the new packaging, I was already aware of the health risks I am placing myself under prior to the passing of this law, a few detailed images isn’t going to make me change my mind on smoking.”
But Finlay did say that he understands that whatever age you are, if you’re thinking of starting you may be put off by this sort of packaging. “First impressions tend to stick in your mind. If someone’s original interaction with smoking involves this graphic content of the possible outcomes of regular tobacco use, they may be put off.”
With only the new packaging appearing on shelves next month, we can only wait and see what effect this will have on public health, societies smoking attitudes and costs to the NHS.
Will this sort of graphic content on packaging reduce the number of smokers?