Thursday, 20 January 2011

Arguing with ASH on packaging

Today I continued an argument with Action on Smoking and Health that started last week, on an article published by the European Parliament. The article described how addiction could be eliminated by simply banning branding and forcing tobacco companies to sell their wares in plain packaging:
Karine Gallopel-Morvan, a lecturer at Rennes university in France, found that a plain pack design with health warnings would deter almost all non smokers from taking up smoking and would reduce the desire amongst smokers to take a cigarette from the pack.
Does this work better than patches? A delegate from Stirling, Crawford Moodie (well known in tobacco control circles) was also present:
Moodie, of the institute of social marketing at Stirling university in Scotland, conducted an online survey, which found that almost one in three young people admitted to choosing a certain brand of cigarettes because they were attracted by the pack's appearance.
This is very far from proving that young people wouldn't start smoking without the visual cues found on brand packaging. Deriving certain impressions from cigarette packaging is surely inevitable, but it doesn't demonstrate that the product wouldn't have a market without the branding.

What I was arguing with Action about was the claim in the article by Leon Joosens that "Unique codes and invisible ink along with the quality and packaging will indicate whether the cigarettes are illegal, ...So there is no reason to suggest it will increase illegal trade". I pointed out that invisible and ink and unique codes wouldn't be much use to customers trying to avoid counterfeit tobacco. Action said that provided customers bought tobacco from shops they would be safe from the danger of counterfeit products. It took me precisely ten seconds to find a story of illegal cigarettes (not necessarily counterfeit ones) being seized by officers in a shop. Already shops are handling illegal products.

ASH wouldn't accept that producing counterfeit cigarettes would be any easier to produce and distribute if branding were banned, but tried to convince me that branding was aimed at kids and was effective in 'making' them smoke. One of the articles it/he/she posted declares that 'perception is everything':
"Cigarettes have created a brand for every personality trait," Hanewinkel says. "If you are looking to project independence and masculinity, think of the lonely cowboy in the Marlboro ads. On the other hand, if you're looking to project a desire for romantic relationships, and friendships are playing a role, then you will choose Lucky Strike if you are a man and Virginia Slims if you are a woman."
Generalisations are all very well, but how can they project that demand for these products will disintegrate in the absence of branding? Or that customers will reach the right conclusions about which cigarettes are the most addictive?

They don't know. They can only hope.

Meanwhile the Scottish war on tobacco continues with an interesting article in the Press & Journal that describes progress over the last ten years:
Since the launch of a strategy to stop tobacco smuggling in 2000, more than 14 billion cigarettes, worth £4 billion, have been seized, more than 350 criminal gangs have been broken up, and £35 million has been collected through confiscation orders.
Three hundred and fifty gangs is a lot of people and one wonders how many more got away. The articles were published following a press release from ASH Scotland reporting the publication of the recommendations of a conference on illicit tobacco held in September 2010 in Perth. To its credit, the Press & Journal quoted Chris Ogden from the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, which was not invited to take part in last September's conference (he pointed out that high taxes were not helping the situation regarding illegal tobacco).

I find it odd that the people who have seized the initiative on illicit tobacco control in Scotland are those (the Scottish Tobacco Control Alliance) who appear to want to blur the distinction between legal and illegal tobacco, and wouldn't dream of advising you to support your local shop by buying the legitimate product, because they don't want you to buy the product at all. They are against the product and will not deal with industry representatives, but seek to protect legitimate trade in the product – while planning an attack on industry brand identity. What a mixed bag of aims and motives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that they are right that the packaging makes kids start smoking.

As a young girl I was so attracted to the plain white pack with the picture of a ship that I couldn't resist starting to smoke.

The name 'Senior service' also was so alluring that resistance was impossible.