Cigarette boxes and advertising: Research by Surrey academics supports plain packaging

Approximately 100 000 people die from a smoking-related illness every year in the UK.  In 2012 the UK government launched a consultation on the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes, which met with high level of public support.  However, ministers have yet to make a decision about whether or not to enforce plain packaging.  Health campaigners are now urging the UK government to do this as soon as possible as it is argued that the sale of cigarettes in unbranded packs should make tobacco less appealing and encourage smokers to quit.  The tobacco companies argue that their branded packages are not advertising their products.

In a paper published in the Journal of Health Psychology, Michaela Dewe, Jane Ogden and Adrian Coyle from the University of Surrey’s School of Psychology explored changes in cigarette advertising since 1950 in the UK and the strategies used by tobacco companies to promote their products. In their work, the researchers focused on the use of the box and the meanings associated with smoking.

Forty UK print advertisements for cigarettes from each decade (1950s-2000s) were selected from an archive of tobacco advertisements using a random number generator.  The findings from the study indicate that, over time, the tobacco companies increasingly used the cigarette box in their advertising, particularly as policies to restrict cigarette advertising were being introduced.  Results also showed that the cigarette box has become iconic to each manufacturer and remains a vehicle for advertising and an object through which smokers express their identity. It could be said that, without realising it, smokers have become walking adverts for the brand they smoke.

Professor Ogden comments: “The results in our study were very revealing.  The box cannot be considered a neutral object that has no impact on consumer choices.  In fact the box is itself a form of branded packaging that is oriented towards persuading smokers to purchase cigarettes. This provides evidence in support of the call for compulsory plain packaging. Other studies have found that the introduction of plain packaging has resulted in smokers perceiving their cigarettes as less satisfying and of lower quality than previously.  It is hoped that the introduction of plain packaging would significantly reduce smoking behaviour.”

For more details about the paper, see http://hpq.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/10/21/1359105313504236.abstract

To see Michaela Dewe and Jane Ogden discussing the research, go to 114094_cigarette_box_advertising_a_strong_case_for_plain_packaging.htm

To read Jane Ogden’s reflections on the research topic, go to http://theconversation.com/tobacco-companies-are-savvy-about-the-power-of-branding-19528