Plain cigarette packs may deter new smokers

Plain cigarette packaging could help prevent people taking up the habit but would have little effect on those who already smoke on a daily basis, according to new research from the UK Centre for Tobacco Studies (UKCTCS), which is based at the universities of Bristol and Bath (Addiction, April 11, 2011).

The researchers used eye-tracking technology to monitor the eye movements of nonsmokers, light smokers, and daily smokers who were asked to look at nonbranded cigarette packs that showed only the health warning and branded packs with identical health warnings.

The results showed that the eyes of nonsmokers and light smokers were drawn to the health warnings on plain packets more than on branded packets, suggesting that plain packaging enhances attention to health warnings. Existing smokers did not seem to be affected by packaging modifications.

"This technology provides a direct measure of eye gaze location and therefore the focus of visual attention," said lead researcher Marcus Munafò, PhD, a professor of biological psychology at the University of Bristol, in a press release. "It is plausible that the more someone looks at the health warnings, for example, the more likely those health warnings are going to be read and understood, with a subsequent impact on behavior."

The introduction of plain packaging has been proposed to address the issue of tobacco promotion, meaning every packet would be the same shape and color, with all branding removed apart from a standard typeface, color, and size for all relevant legal markings, including health warnings.

An initiative to remove branding from cigarette packs is already being introduced in Australia, the researchers noted, although the tobacco industry has argued that there is no evidence to support the move and is campaigning against it.

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