Study: Plain cigarette packs turn smokers off

Researchers in Australia find that smokes with no flashy branding or advertising lose their appeal. But tobacco companies say sales are still going strong.

By Kim Peterson Jul 23, 2013 2:01PM
handout image provided by the Australian Government, a proposed 'plain-packaged' cigarette packet is seen. British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International are in the High Court challenging the Australian Government's proposed plain packaging laws, which are a world first
© Australian Government via Getty ImagesPlain, drab cigarette packaging might go a long way toward helping smokers quit.

That's the takeaway from a new study in Australia that found that smokers don't like cigarettes as much when they come in boring packs with graphic images of the habit's harmful effects.

As it turns out, people are so influenced by branding and advertising that when you take it away, the product suffers.

Smokers think cigarettes from plain packs are less satisfying and of lower quality, the study said. And most also think seriously about quitting. The researchers are publishing the study Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

The study took place in Australia because it has some of the world's toughest laws on cigarette packaging. Starting last December, cigarettes have been sold in olive green packs (pictured) with graphic photos on them showing mouth cancer and other ill effects from smoking.

But do plain packs actually hurt sales? Cigarette companies say there there has been no drop in sales in Australia since the new packaging hit shelves. ''The tobacco market has remained stable," British American Tobacco spokesman Scott McIntyre told The Sydney Morning Herald. "Consumers have not changed their purchasing behavior."

The issue seems to have been snuffed out in the United States. In 2011, a federal judge threw out the Food and Drug Administration's attempt to get similar packaging in place. The government appealed the ruling last year, but so far no dramatic changes to cigarette packaging appears likely. Even the FDA's website showing the proposed labels has been shut down.

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