Plain tobacco packaging may reduce the likelihood of smokers seeking to obtain cigarettes by almost 10% compared to branded packs, according to research from the Universities of Exeter and Bristol.The authors I refer to are committed anti-smoking researchers Marcus Munafo and Olivia Maynard. Their day 'job' being to support anything that the tobacco control industry is lobbying for. The last para just about admits as much.
Co-author Dr Olivia Maynard won an Economic and Social Research Council Impact Prize for her PhD research into plain packaging. Dr Maynard explained: "The current laboratory study tested whether plain packaging might influence tobacco-seeking behaviour. Our previous research in this area has been used to inform tobacco control policies both in the UK and internationally. Our hope is that high quality experimental research of this kind can make a meaningful contribution to important policy debates."What they don't say is that they are both members of Bristol's Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG). This group's 'research' usually (in fact, always) tends to agree with whatever particular anti-smoking legislation is being promoted to politicians at any particular time.
At the moment, it's plain packaging, so this 'scientific' revelation is hardly a surprise.
Maynard received an award from her mates for an eye-tracking study which was criticised by a real eye-tracking scientist who is not part of TARG, and Munafo - who is also with the politically-motivated UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies - signposted this kind of propaganda in his video of August last year.
So, do you want to see what amazing stuff they found? OK, here you go.
In the experiments, smokers had to choose between pressing a key that might earn cigarettes or a key that might earn chocolate, and were uncertain about which key was most likely to pay off in each trial. Just before participants made each choice, they were presented with either a picture of a branded cigarette pack, a picture of a plain cigarette pack, or nothing. The results showed that whereas branded packs increased the probability of participants making the cigarette choice by 10% compared to when nothing was presented, the plain packs did not. The implication is that plain packs are less effective at prompting smokers to purchase cigarettes compared to branded packs.Brilliant!
Except that, at the moment, no-one has been presented with plain packs in a real life scenario. Therefore the participants will not choose cigarettes in plain packs simply because they don't recognise them as such. Familiar cigarette packs prime smoking seeking and unfamiliar plain packs don't yet? Well blow me down, what a revelation!
"[T]he plain packs promoted no more tobacco choice than when nothing was presented. These findings provide experimental support for the idea that introducing plain packaging might reduce tobacco purchasing or consumption"No they don't. They just tell us that plain packs were not recognised as being tobacco packs at the moment. Quite understandably. When plain packs are introduced, they will be.
It's such a piss poor study that even the authors themselves seem a bit embarrassed.
However, the researchers also advise caution when interpreting these results. As Professor Marcus Munafo, a co-author of the study from the University of Bristol, explained: "The experimental procedure only modelled the ability of pack stimuli to promote a cigarette-seeking choice. In the natural environment, smoking may be governed by a whole range of factors, including tobacco withdrawal, the presence of other people smoking, time of day, and so on. It is not clear to what extent plain packaging will reduce smoking when these other factors are at play."Of course. This is as near as you'll ever get to a tobacco controller admitting that they are producing junk science. But it's never been about the 'science', has it? It's just about getting a headline in the press, and you just know that some lazy journalists will fall for it and announce that plain packs will reduce smoking by 10%.
What this study really says is that people make choices based on what they recognise. Well, duh! So once plain packaging is ubiquitous, smokers will recognise it as such and make their choices accordingly. The assertion that plain packs are akin to displaying nothing are correct only in a lab, where nothing equals something they don't understand or recognise as anything too.
So what are the policy implications for this really? Well, it could be used to argue that there will be an instant but short-lived reduction in impulse buying of cigarettes while plain packaging is still unfamiliar. But we know from Australia that this quite simply hasn't happened.
In fact, the fact it hasn't happened has been defended by no more an authority on plain packaging as the doddery self-promoting twanger Simon Chapman himself.
But plain packaging will not instantly cut smoking rates, he cautions. "We're not expecting plain packaging to have much impact on existing smokers. It's a policy about the next generation of kids who are coming through, so we would expect to slowly starve the industry of new customers by de-normalising and de-glamorising their products."Slowly? Err, but Munafo and Maynard's policy-led study - in a nutshell - implies that the effect will only last so long as plain packs are not associated with actual cigarettes. And if it ain't happened by now with kids in Australia - which it hasn't - it's not likely to in the future, now is it?