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Smokers 81% more motivated to quit with plain packaging, suggest researchers

Plain packaging on cigarettes makes tobacco less appealing and increases smokers’ urgency to quit, suggests new research from Australia.

They found the plain pack smokers were 81% more likely than branded pack smokers to have thought about quitting at least once a day in the past week, as well as being significantly more likely to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives.

The research will pile pressure on the UK Government, which was heavily criticised by doctors for ditching plans to introduce plain packaging in the UK.

Australia officially introduced plain, brown packaging on all cigarettes and rolling tobacco, with graphic health warnings covering 75% of the front of the pack, from December last year.

To look at the early effects of the policy, researchers surveyed 536 smokers in the state of Victoria during November, when the plain packaged tobacco was already widely available.

Around three out of four (72.3%) of the participants were smoking from the plain packs while the rest (27.7%) were still smoking from branded packs.

They found that smokers using the plain packs were 66% more likely to think their cigarettes were of poorer quality than a year ago, and 70% more likely to say they found them less satisfying than a year ago, compared with smokers still using branded packs.

Plain packet smokers were also 51% more likely to support the policy for plain packaging than branded pack smokers.

The researchers concluded: ‘The finding that smokers smoking from a plain pack evidenced more frequent thought about, and priority for quitting, than branded pack smokers is important, since frequency of thoughts about quitting has strong predictive validity in prospective studies for actually making a quit attempt.’

They added: ‘Overall, the introductory effects we observed are consistent with the broad objectives of the plain packaging legislation. We await further research to examine more durable effects on smokers and any effects on youth.’

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, said: ‘The evidence from Australia highlights the error the Government made in giving in to the tobacco industry and kicking into the long grass plans to introduce plain packaging.  

‘From these early results it is clear that progress has been made and that plain packaging is already having the desired effect. As doctors we often see the devastating effects of tobacco addiction and anything that is making smokers think again about quitting must be welcomed.

‘We urge the Government to reconsider their decision and introduce legislation that would help put an end to a life-long addiction that kills and destroys health.’

BMJ Open 2013; 3: e003175


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