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      Prospective longitudinal study of tobacco company adaptation to standardised packaging in the UK: identifying circumventions and closing loopholes

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          UK standardised packaging legislation was introduced alongside pack size and product descriptor restrictions of the European Union Tobacco Products Directive to end tobacco marketing and misinformation via the pack. This paper aims to assess compliance with the restrictions and identify attempts to continue to market tobacco products and perpetuate misperceptions of harm post legislation.

          Design, setting and intervention

          A prospective study of the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products to the UK.

          Participants and outcomes

          We analysed commercial sales data to assess whether the legally required changes in pack branding, size and name were implemented. To explore any adaptations to products and packaging we analysed sales data, monthly pack purchases of factory-made (FM) cigarettes and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco, tobacco advertisements from retail trade magazines and articles on tobacco from commercial literature (retail trade, market analyst and tobacco company publications).


          One month after full implementation of the UK and European Union policies, 97% FM and 98% RYO was sold in compliant packaging. Nevertheless, tobacco companies made adaptations to tobacco products which enabled continued brand differentiation after the legislation came into force. For example, flavour names previously associated with low tar were systematically changed to colour names arguably facilitating continued misperceptions about the relative harms of products. Tobacco companies used the 1-year sell-through to their advantage by communicating brand name changes and providing financial incentives for retailers to buy large volumes of branded packs. In addition, tobacco companies continued to market their products to retailers and customers by innovating exemptions to the legislation, namely, filters, packaging edges, seals, multipack outers, RYO accessories, cigars and pipe tobacco.


          Tobacco companies adapted to packaging restrictions by innovating their tobacco products and marketing activities. These findings should enable policy makers globally to close loopholes and increase the potential efficacy of standardised packaging policies.

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          Most cited references 32

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          Beyond light and mild: cigarette brand descriptors and perceptions of risk in the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey.

          To examine perceptions of risk related to type of cigarette brand. Cross-sectional findings from wave 5 of the ITC Four Country Survey, conducted with nationally representative samples of smokers in 2006. A total of 8243 current and former adult (≥18 years) smokers from Canada (n=2022), the United States (n=2034), the United Kingdom (n=2019) and Australia (n=2168). Outcomes included beliefs about the relative risks of cigarettes, including perceptions of 'own' brand. Correlates included socio-demographic, smoking-related covariates and brand characteristics. One-fifth of smokers believed incorrectly that 'some cigarette brands could be less harmful' than others. False beliefs were higher in both the United States and United Kingdom compared to Canada and Australia. Smokers of 'light/mild', 'slim' and 100 mm/120 mm cigarettes were more likely to believe that some cigarettes could be less harmful [odds ratio (OR)=1.29, 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.12-1.48 and that their own brand might be a little less harmful (OR=2.61, 95% CI=2.01-3.41). Smokers of 'gold', 'silver', 'blue' or 'purple' brands were more likely to believe that their 'own brand might be a little less harmful' compared to smokers of 'red' or 'black' brands (OR=12.48, 95% CI=1.45-107.31). Despite current prohibitions on the words 'light' and 'mild', smokers in western countries continue to falsely believe that some cigarette brands may be less harmful than others. These beliefs are associated with descriptive words and elements of package design that have yet to be prohibited, including the names of colours and long, slim cigarettes. © 2011 The Authors, Addiction © 2011 Society for the Study of Addiction.
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            What do cigarette pack colors communicate to smokers in the U.S.?

            New legislation in the U.S. prohibits tobacco companies from labeling cigarette packs with terms such as light, mild, or low after June 2010. However, experience from countries that have removed these descriptors suggests that different terms, colors, or numbers communicating the same messages may replace them. The main purpose of this study was to examine how cigarette pack colors are perceived by smokers to correspond to different descriptive terms. Newspaper advertisements and postings directed interested current smokers to a survey website. Eligible participants were shown an array of six cigarette packages (altered to remove all descriptive terms) and asked to link package images with their corresponding descriptive terms. Participants were then asked to identify which pack in the array they would choose if they were concerned with health, tar, nicotine, image, and taste. A total of 193 participants completed the survey from February to March 2008 (data were analyzed from May 2008 through November 2010). Participants were more accurate in matching descriptors to pack images for Marlboro brand cigarettes than for unfamiliar Peter Jackson brand (sold in Australia). Smokers overwhelmingly chose the "whitest" pack if they were concerned about health, tar, and nicotine. Smokers in the U.S. associate brand descriptors with colors. Further, white packaging appears to most influence perceptions of safety. Removal of descriptor terms but not the associated colors will be insufficient in eliminating misperceptions about the risks from smoking communicated to smokers through packaging. Copyright © 2011 American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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              Tobacco product developments coinciding with the implementation of plain packaging in Australia.


                Author and article information

                BMJ Open
                BMJ Open
                BMJ Open
                BMJ Publishing Group (BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR )
                24 September 2019
                : 9
                : 9
                departmentTobacco Control Research Group, Department for Health , University of Bath , Bath, UK
                Author notes
                [Correspondence to ] Dr Rosemary Hiscock; r.hiscock@
                © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.

                This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

                Funded by: UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies;
                Award ID: MR/K023195/1
                Funded by: Cancer Research UK & British Heart Foundation;
                Award ID: C27260/A23168
                Smoking and Tobacco
                Original Research
                Custom metadata


                plain packs, standardised packaging, tobacco industry, tobacco


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