Friday 25 October 2013

New Study Finds No Evidence For Plain Packaging

Well, that's what the study - feverishly tweeted by increasingly barrel-scraping tobacco controllers this week - should have reported, but then that would have ruined the pre-determined outcome.

The University of Surrey - or rather a PhD student they have just taken on - decided to look at cigarette adverts from 1950 to 2003. They concluded that packs have become far more glitzy than the bland boxes of yesteryear so are therefore a sinister plot by the tobacco industry to ensnare new smokers. Surrey Uni's Jane Ogden explains more.
Michaela Dewe - my PhD student at the University of Surrey - has just published an analysis of 240 print adverts randomly selected from the years 1950 to 2000 that appeared in the UK. The findings are pretty clear. Early adverts focused on men, women (even children), fun, health and the outdoors and the box was pretty much absent. 
But in later years as policies began to limit their advertising possibilities the box became more and more present; a dominant feature in the ads. So by the time all they had left was a box, everyone everywhere knew what each hint of colour or flash of word meant and the branding was complete.
Here is a perfect example.

Oh, sorry. I don't know how that got there, because we all know, don't we, that only tobacco companies have changed their advertising methods since the 1950s to better emphasise branding. It hasn't been a shift in the advertising of consumer goods across every industry at all. How silly of me.

Anyhow, Jane carries on:
So can these boxes encourage people to change brands, to smoke more or even to start? We don’t know and have no hard evidence in our favour. But walk round any town centre and see how many people wear the adverts for their favourite brands splashed across their chests or stamped on the side of their trainers. “Gap”, “Superdry”, “Nike”, “Adidas” to name but a few, know that getting their consumers to be branded is far better advertising than a static billboard or a briefly flashed TV advert. Some people are seen as “cool”, “my age”, “at my school” and others will buy into what they buy.
So let's get this straight. Every industry from coffee to chocolate to clothing manufacturers value their brand, and therefore tobacco companies must be stopped from using theirs. Well that's a new one. It's like pointing at magpies and saying that cows should be banned cos they're kinda the same colour.

Still, apart from this Chewbacca defence, we're still no nearer any proper evidence, as Jane has already admitted and confirms later in the piece.
Our research doesn’t show that a branded box changes behaviour.
Which would kinda be the point if you're going to conclude that legislating for plain packaging is essential, doncha think?
But bit of common sense and a quick wander around the streets, while pondering the question “why don’t the tobacco industry want plain packaging”, seems a pretty good indication that plain packaging probably does.
Yes, tobacco companies - just like Nescafe, Bisto, Lynx deodorant and Kelloggs bloody corn flakes - believe that their brands are trusted by consumers and hope their product will be chosen instead of a competing one. That's the entire point of branding, as I tried to explain to Phil Rimmer, ASH's Business Manager (an ironic job title, I thought, considering he seems to know little about how business works) at Stephen Williams's Lib Dem Voice article last month.
Cigarettes are not like bread, just like bread is not like wristwatches and wristwatches are not like torque wrenches. But bread manufacturers will package their bread to attract attention to their bread instead of someone else’s bread; wristwatch makers will make their watches attractive to draw customers to their wristwatches instead of another company’s wristwatches, and torque wrench manufacturers will use innovative design elements to make their torque wrenches the choice of torque wrench users over and above the torque wrenches made by other torque wrench manufacturers. In that, tobacco companies are clearly acting no differently than companies in every other industry on the planet. 
If any other industry was banned from advertising anywhere at all, the only way they would be able to increase market share to satisfy their shareholders would surely be reduced to solely making their product the most innovative/tasty/attractive/flashy/prestigious (delete as applicable) on the market, so that people who buy bread/wristwatches/torque wrenches will buy theirs. It’s hardly surprising, then, that tobacco packs have become more attractive – perversely, it’s because your previous successes have created them. That, and the fact that packaging technology has advanced so rapidly in recent years that *all* packaging in *all* industries is flashier, more ‘glitzy’ even, in recent years. Just as production means that there are now dozens more lines in every market than there were ‘a few years ago’. Did you know you can even get 12 different types of Special K cereal now?
With this in mind, the only way that Surrey Uni's research on the changing face of cigarette adverts could lead to a conclusion that plain packaging should be enforced would be if they found that the packs increased the uptake of smoking.

And what does the study itself say on the matter? Well, after looking at every tiny aspect of tobacco advertising over a 53 year period, the conclusion was unavoidable.
"There is no obvious association between changes in advertising strategy and smoking prevalence"
Indeed, 'ickle Michaela even provided a handy graph to demonstrate this (click to enlarge).

Now, if you can find even a vague correlation between approaches to advertising, whether featuring the box prominently or not, and an increase or decrease in smoking, you're a better gender-neutral human than me Gunga Din.

The stark staringly obvious conclusion from the data exhibited, surely, should be that all these adverts merely shift consumers - that is, people who already smoke - from one product to another. Precisely what the tobacco industry has consistently claimed.

And yes, this is seriously the best these desperate people can contrive. Bizarre indeed, but the wait for proper (as in, not risible) evidence for plain packaging continues.


paul said... wonders why bother doing the research at all when all it takes is a "quick wander around the streets, while pondering the question"


harleyrider1989 said...

No need for the NannyState either unless your building a Hitleresque world of domination!

Bucko TheMoose said...

As you know i'm in conversation with a local councillor regarding plain packs. I'm going to print out that study and hand it to him (He won't bother looking at links).
I'm sure you won't mind if I also print out a copy of your post and hand that to him as well.

Dick_Puddlecote said...


Manx Gent said...

This is a Ph.D thesis in 2013? Amazing!
I learnt the same thing in year 1 of a B.A in 1990 for an essay, based on half an hour with a guy who worked on 1980's Benson & Hedges ads, who amicably and openly explained how, as they couldn't actually talk about the product or name it any more, they just had fun playing with puns about gold that both the punters and advertisers thought of as a huge joke.
If those ads, in turn, disappeared from billboards, you can't help thinking it was simply because the bansturbators got annoyed at being laughed at.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I wouldn't give him the study, he'll doubtless believe the whole shaggy dog story they dreamed up.

Bucko TheMoose said...

He already does. He only gets soundbites which he instantly subscribes to though. The full study may show what I've been saying - that tobacco control studies are pants

Or not.

JonathanBagley said...

Jordan F1

"The team was known for its humorous, fun-loving nature. This even applied to sponsorship in countries where tobacco sponsorship was banned. The yellow colour came from Benson & Hedges, and tobacco sponsorship laws turned these words into "Bitten & Hisses" in 1997, "Buzzing Hornets" from 1998 to 2000, "Bitten Heroes" in2001, and "BE ON EDGE" from 2002 onwards."

westcoast2 said...

Talking about the obvious. What happened between 2003-05 that seems to precede the flat lining?

There was a General advertising ban in 2003 followed in increments until a total ban in 2005. After 2005 they apparently only had the pack left.

Now during the flat line, in 2008, graphic warnings were introduced. This also seems to have had no effect.

So putting the two together, could 'Plain' packaging, consisting of Graphic Warnings + Standard pack, likely have no effect?

Before showing the graph to someone who wants 'plain packaging', I would ask them to predict what happened to the smoking rate after the complete advertising ban and after the graphic warnings were introduced.

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX Cigarettes are not like bread, just like bread is not like wristwatches
and wristwatches are not like torque wrenches. But bread manufacturers
will package their bread to attract attention to their bread instead of
someone else’s bread; wristwatch makers will make their watches
attractive to draw customers to their wristwatches instead of another
company’s wristwatches, and torque wrench manufacturers will use
innovative design elements to make their torque wrenches the choice of
torque wrench users over and above the torque wrenches made by other
torque wrench manufacturers. In that, tobacco companies are clearly
acting no differently than companies in every other industry on the
planet. XX

Now, this maybe just me. But why does that whole paragraph reek, to me, of chapter one, volume one, regarding Cloth manufacture, in "Das Kapital?"

Just a little....SOMETHING....

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Classics, and award-winning too, so therefore certain to induce rabid frothing from any psycho anti.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Just had to make it as simple as I possibly could for the poor fella. ;)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

It's interesting that Debs Arnott took over ASH in 2003. That's when empathy with smokers was abandoned in favour of bullying and persecution (harm reduction is only now being considered again despite the previous incumbent telling her it was very important).

Despite all the "successes" during Arnott's tenure, declines in smoking prevalence have quite clearly stalled. If she were a football club manager, she'd have been sacked years ago for such appalling failure.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Also, I wonder how Michaela treated Silk Cut adverts of 1983-ish. There were no packs shown at all, merely colours. I'm guessing a purple cotton reel would have been classified as a box.

Ivan D said...

It seems that the university of Surrey are so proud of this completely unbiased and objective "science" that they issued a press release complete with video:

They do provide contact details should anyone want to get in touch and ask them about their fabulous contribution to the growing body of evidence that degrees in psychology should not be taken seriously by anyone ever again.

nisakiman said...

I thought the Silk Cut advertising campaign was brilliant. Instantly recognisable and cleverly done. In fact the tobacco companies provided most of the better billboards of the time. Regardless of that, I was never tempted to smoke Silk Cut (or B&H, another good campaign), so they failed on that level.

Michael J. McFadden said...

LOL! That coffee counter-riposte is BEAUTIFUL Dick! :> As is the ad for purple silk thread!

Hmmm.... "Journal of Health Psychology"? Sounds like it might not be quite up there with the British Medical Journal (And we all KNOW how reputable THEY are, right? See: "A Study Delayed... at: )

Gee, I wonder why the tobacco companies would have switched their advertising focus over to pack design/presentation instead of staying with ads showing happy men and women with their children? Could it *possibly* be because they saw the direction that regulations were heading in and wanted to be ready for the ban on showing humans in ads? (Which was likely the REAL impetus behind the Joe Camel ads... not some obscure "let's play to the children with cartoons" nonsense.)

One weird thing that stuck out about this study right away was the handling of figures in Table 1. What conceivable reason was there for totaling the percentages instead of presenting them as averages?

The antis truly have become desperate in trying to find things to complain about with with grant money, eh? Note the wording at the end: the study received no SPECIFIC grant for the research. Anyone want to take bets on how many of the three authors are being supported through some form of NONspecific antismoking support money? Might their support have been hurt if they produced a study saying that plain packaging was nonsense and discovering that ASH was misleading the public?

Anyone know anyone at the school who could find that sort of thing out? Or is it a matter of easily accessed public record? If the students were getting partial fellowships from a grant administered to the Psych department from Benson and Hedges, would they have been able to get away with such a statement at the end? If not, and if it turned out that they're funded by the NicoGummyPatchyPeople or by the antismoking branch of HHS or somesuch, shouldn't a similar stink be made?


Furor Teutonicus said...

My favorite;

"Don't throw a lighted Camel from the window."

nisakiman said...

DAMN! HOW do you get Photos to work here???

Just click on the little icon in the bottom left of the comment box, and you can browse your files and upload the pic you want. Looks like you're trying to use BB Code - I don't think that works with Disqus anyway, only html.

Here's a Silk Cut ad I came across that I've not seen before - a Greek one! :)

Junican said...

Averaging the percentages would probably have produced only minor variations. Totalling in much more impressive.

Furor Teutonicus said...

Aha! Dabke! :-)

Michael J. McFadden said...

Hehe... just got some giggles thinking about the effect if you were able to sneak that "slide" (or powerpoint page) into the middle of an antismoking lecture on plain packaging where they expected to be displaying an old and new cig ad. Funny thing is that the Anti giving the lecture would have their brain SOOO focused on what they expected to see that they'd just continue ranting on while the audience began cracking up. :>

Dick_Puddlecote said...

It was one of any number I could have chosen. Lucozade, Heinz, Cadbury's, Persil, PG Tips, Oxo, Del Monte, you name it.