RESEARCH ON GROUPS of 15 and 16-year-olds has found that cigarette brands encourage teens to start smoking but that non-smokers would be discouraged from even trying them and current smokers would quit if cigarettes came out in ‘plain packs’.
The study conducted was commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society and Irish Heart Foundation and was launched by a group of children’s and health organisations and by Minister James Reilly earlier today.
The group said that young people are the primary target for marketing by the tobacco industry which, according to the HSE’s National Office of Tobacco Control, “needs to recruit 50 new smokers a day to replace those their product kill, or those who manage to quit”.
More than any other tobacco control measure to date, the removal of branding from cigarettes will threaten the business model, which has enabled tobacco companies to increase profitability by recruiting new, young smokers, they said.
The teens in the research focus groups believed that cigarettes currently on sale in Ireland, communicate ‘fun’, ‘style’ and make the smoker ‘look and feel better’ about themselves. The findings show that although finances and price prevent teenagers from purchasing premium brands of cigarettes, appealing packaging has the power to generate buzz, provide the incentive to purchase and can communicate perceived benefits of smoking one brand over another.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Head of Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society Kathleen O’Meara said that using this kind of packaging has a huge impact in adolescents because of the image they create and they are more vulnerable to this kind of marketing than adults.
“In this specific research the conclusion is that the packaging is very significant,” she said. “Branding is very important to adolecsents – the clothes they wear, the phones they have, what they want to show off to people.They see these packs as being cool and trendy, like a fashion accessory.”
Speaking about the super-slim cigarettes which come in lipstick-shaped boxes, one girl said:
They look really cool, I think they would look classy if you had them on the table.
Dirty, smelly, disgusting
Interestingly O’Meara said that there was a noticeable shift when the teens were shown plain packaged cigarettes and those with graphic images on them. “They started using words like ‘dirty’, ‘smelly’, ‘disgusting’,” she said.
Asked who would smoke these cigarettes, one teen said:
I’d say an old person who smokes loads; they are too far gone and wouldn’t care if they are seen with the packs anyway.
Research shows that children start to smoke younger in Ireland than in other European countries and the new study found that four distinct smoker-types have already been established up to three years before teenagers reach the legal age they can purchase tobacco.
The attitudes of these groups range for teenagers who say they will never smoke, to teenagers who are smoking between 3-10 cigarettes a day and who are self-confessed ‘addicts’. All the teens who smoked had intentions to quit but these plans are not immediate and believed that their youth could insulate them from any long-term harm.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Reilly said it was “not acceptable” that a product that kills 5,200 Irish people each year is packaged in a slim, pink container that resembles lipstick or perfume.
“Given all we know about the dangers of smoking, we cannot allow deceptive marketing gimmicks to be used to lure our children into a deadly addiction that will ultimately kill half of those who become addicted. Standardised packaging is the next logical step in combating this public health epidemic.”
Meanwhile, pro-smokers lobby group Forest Éireann has rejected the claims that children start smoking because of packaging.
“This research is no basis for legislation,” said spokesperson John Mallon. “The opinions are subjective and the results are hypothetical because what children say and how they behave in practise are two totally different things.
“Most children start smoking because of peer pressure or the influence of family members. There is no credible evidence that plain packaging will have any long term impact on youth smoking rates.”
First published 10.20am
Additional reporting by Sinéad O’Carroll