Cigarettes in plain packaging "may help" smokers cut down

Selling cigarettes in plain packaging may have an impact in helping smokers cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke, according to a recent UK study.1

The study, carried out by, amongst others, the Universities of Bristol and Exeter, exposed smokers over a period of time to a pack of branded cigarettes, cigarettes in plain packaging with the health warning, or nothing at all. Afterwards they were asked to choose a reward from either chocolate or smoking a cigarette.

The study suggested that over time, smokers were 9% more likely to choose the chocolate reward over a cigarette when they were exposed to the plain packaging.

However, this small study has several flaws, not least that the need or desire to smoke does not tend to start with the packaging. The desire to smoke can also come from withdrawal symptoms, the time of day, daily habits, being around other smokers and many others.

On its own, this study does not add much value to using plain packaging for cigarettes. However, Australia's current experiment with plain packaging is set to continue as the government released figures showing a modest drop in smoking numbers, and other governments, including the UK, may also follow suit in future.


1 Hogarth L, Maynard OM, Munafò MR. Plain cigarette packs do not exert Pavlovian to instrumental transfer of control over tobacco-seeking. Addiction. Published online November 13 2015

News sources:

Cigarette packet law 'would save lives'. BBC News, February 17 2015

Plain cigarette packaging can deter the take-up of smoking, studies suggest. The Guardian, February 17 2015


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