Janet Hoek, Professor of Public Health and Marketing at the University Of Otago explains how New Zealand researchers are looking to Australia’s experience in plain packaging of tobacco products to decrease the incidence of smoking.
New Zealand has an ambitious goal to become cleaner and greener by being smokefree by 2025.
Realising this world-leading goal would significantly reduce illnesses caused by smoking and bring considerable public health benefits. But there’s a lot that needs to be done between now and then, with leading tobacco control researchers in New Zealand from all disciplines working together to underpin the tobacco-free legacy.
Right now, the focus is on plain packaging as announced on 14 March, 2018, but New Zealand researchers from the University of Otago in Dunedin are also developing innovative new cessation technologies and have some interesting new insights into tobacco and young people.
Standardised packaging, featuring an unappealing brown-green colour and large health warnings, will replace tobacco brand imagery from the 6 June, 2018.
Janet Hoek, Professor of Public Health and Marketing and co-director of ASPIRE2025 (one of the University of Otago’s Research Themes) believes standardised packaging is a pivotal measure for reducing smoking uptake amongst young people.
Based on Australia’s experience, she expects standardised packaging will decrease the number of smokers.
“Australia has already found plain packaging has transformed attitudes,” Professor Hoek says. “Research evaluating the impact of plain packaging in the country found it had resulted in over 100,000 fewer smokers during the 34 months following the policy’s implementation. This has changed how young people view smoking and reduced the likelihood they will experiment with smoking. It has also influenced adult smokers, who report noticing health warnings more and feeling more motivated to quit.
“New Zealand is now following Australia’s plain packaging lead.”
Standardised packaging increases the visual impact of health warnings, since the health warnings are larger and no longer compete with distracting brand imagery. These images have a particular impact on adolescents and young adults, who are now less likely to view smoking as attractive.
Professor Hoek and the wider ASPIRE2025 research team support New Zealand’s smokefree 2025 goal, which aims to see smoking prevalence fall to 5 per cent or less.
Professor Hoek argues that warnings on packs need rapid rotation and calls on policy makers to develop an ongoing evaluation process that ensures new warnings are regularly introduced.
“We need to ensure these new standardised packs maintain their impact on smokers; we need to avoid the situation where we have the same warnings in place for an extended period of time. People will become desensitised, the messages will wear out, and the policy will lose its effectiveness.”
“No marketing manager would allow its business to run the same campaign for 10 years and expect it to maintain its effectiveness.
“We need warnings that resonate with all groups and provide ongoing and relevant reasons to quit smoking now.”
Professor Hoek and her team are focusing on messaging which will work as a deterrent for adolescents and young adults.
“It’s very important to help people quit smoking, but we also want to make it hard for young people to take up smoking in the first place,” Professor Hoek explained.
“We know that it’s difficult for teenagers to imagine what it will be like to be 30, so telling them that smoking will harm them when they are 50 has little impact,” she said.
“It’s therefore very important that we evaluate the new warnings and continue introducing new warnings that elicit strong emotional responses, and continually provide smokers with new and salient prompts to quit.”
She also argues that New Zealand should recognise the existing approach may need to be tailored to reach particular population groups.
“On-pack warnings are very important because they allow us to reach all smokers but we must recognise that people who have smoked for 30 years differ from young people who are experimenting or who regard themselves as social smokers.”