Australia is the only country in the world (yet) to enforce the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act. As a number of other countries are on the verge of implementing this act too or passing it to a vote[i], an interesting and important rising question is if plain packaging of tobacco products influences the consumer behaviour for smoking tobacco products in Australia?
The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act is enforced in Australia since 1 December 2012. It standardised the appearance of all tobacco packs, which includes the colour of the pack. The Act is established to discourage the use of tobacco products, and reduce the ability of the retail packaging of tobacco products to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking or using tobacco products. In order to accomplish the attempts, the Act reduces the appeal of tobacco products to consumers and increases the effectiveness of health warnings on the retail packaging of tobacco products[ii].
Before the establishments of Plain Packaging Act, the government has resisted any forms of marketing campaigns in relations to tobacco. Hence, tobacco industry analysts have demonstrated that the utility of tobacco packaging differentiation is an essential marketing tool. Therefore, the government believes that the Act can be effective to diminish the smoking population in Australia.
Did the lack of marketing tools for the tobacco industry lead to a decrease in smoking population or health awareness succeeds at preventing smokers during the past three years in Australia?
A study done in Australia throughout November 2012, examined the attitudes and intentions of smokers during this period, comparing those who were smoking cigarettes from the new plain packs with larger health warnings (these were already in the shops), with those still smoking from a branded pack with smaller warnings. This study indicated that plain packaging is associated with lower smoking appeal and more urgency to quit among adult smokers[v].
The results from a study done by National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), with a nationally representative sample (N=23,855) of the Australian population aged 12 years and older, show where there have been changes in smoking behaviours in Australia, including prevalence, between 2010 and 2013. The people that were reported to smoke decreased from 18.1% to 15.8%, with a decrease in smoking daily from 15.1% to 12.8%. Furthermore the weekly consumption of cigarettes dropped from 111 cigarettes to 96 cigarettes, and there was an increase in average age of initiation from 15.4 years to 15.9 years and never smoking from 57.8% to 60.1%[iii].
Overall, these numbers point out that the Plain Packaging Act, still at its early living phase, is working success to discourage the use of tobacco products by the Australian people[iv].
I think it is an effective way of preventing people from taking up the smoking habit and to change people’s smoking behaviour, however the tobacco companies are left without options to differentiate themselves from one another using marketing. What do you think is the best way to change consumer behaviour? What will be the next step, should we start doing this for all unhealthy products?
Author: Hidde Postma
Viewed by: Junhong Zhang
[iii] Australian Institute for Health and Welfare. 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013. Drug statistics series No. 28. Cat. No. PHE 183, Canberra: AIHW, 2014.