Cigarettes and plain packaging – a literature overview

Cigarette vending maching in Tokyo (image c/o C.K. Koay on Flickr).

Plain packaging for cigarettes has once more jumped up the agenda with the government apparently keen to push through legislation before the next election. Now seems as good a time as any to look at some of the key issues around plain packaging for cigarettes.

The politics

  • The government had previously shelved plans to legislate for plain cigarette packaging, claiming it wished to study the impact of the move in Australia before pressing ahead.

The Tobacco Industry

  • The tobacco industry has been resistant to the introduction of plain packaging and has previously launched “stealth-marketing” campaigns to rally opposition to the proposals, including the creation of a website supposedly representing British smokers and presenting the “facts”. The website presents a number of “facts” but provides no objective evidence for any of the assertions it contains.
  • A study in 2014 by Costa et al (PDF) used quantitative text mining techniques to examine the extent to which tobacco industry lobbying affects tobacco policy in the EU. The authors found evidence that “tobacco industry lobbying activity at the EU was associated with significant policy shifts”.


  • Jon Sutton from the British Psychology Society’s The Psychologist publication talks to two health psychologists about the evidence for supporting the introduction of plain packaging. (The article is free to read but requires an account to be created.)
  • Freeman, Chapman and Rimmer review the available research into the likely impact of plain packaging and investigate internal tobacco industry statements about the importance of the packs themselves as promotional tools. Searching across a number of databases as well as grey literature (government documents etc) and non-government organisation papers, they conclude that the introduction of plain packaging is consistent with the goal to restrict tobacco advertising and promotion.
  • In a paper published in The European Journal of Public Health, Hammond et al investigated cigarette packet design and the perception of risk among UK adults and youth. Following a survey of 516 adults and 806 youth aged 11-17, they found that there was a perception that “smooth”, “silver” and “gold” branded cigarettes were a lower health risk. According to their survey, over 50% of adults and youth believed that brands labelled “smooth” were less harmful than regular cigarettes.
  • Germain et al examine the effect of plain packaging on adolescents’ perceptions of cigarette packs. They found that as branding was removed from products, so they became less appealing. They conclude that removing branding was likely to reduce “positive cigarette brand image associations” among adolescents.
  • Doxey and Hammond look at the impact of cigarette packaging on young women and found that branded packs had a number of positive associations, including glamour and attractiveness, compared to plain packs. They conclude that plain packaging may consequently reduce brand appeal.
  • The Office for National Statistics compiles a host of statistics as part of its “Integrated Household Survey” every year, including statistics on the prevalence of smoking. The most recent statistical release (October 2014) reveals that smoking prevalence in the UK fell from 19.8% to 18.7%.

(Research articles were obtained following a literature search on electronic databases such as PsycInfo and ScienceDirect as well as Library Search. All articles are accessible using your Athens login!)


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