Marie McInerney reports:
Do you think plain packaging of cigarettes with graphic photos showing tongue cancer or gangrene is enough to deter smokers?
What about filter tips that look like vomit, slime, scum or poo? Or a cigarette stick that marks the minutes of life lost as you suck on it?
And what about the images above? These were tested on young people as part of ASPIRE 2025, a research consortium comprising New Zealand’s leading tobacco control researchers working towards a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025.
ASPIRE 2025 co-director Professor Janet Hoek told the 2015 Oceania Tobacco Control Conference that Australia had given tobacco control the recipe for success with plain packaging.
“But we should always be looking to go beyond what has already been done,” she said.
In her keynote address titled ‘Plain packaging 2.0’, Hoek outlined early research into four options:
- Impose a moratorium on so-called variant names that tobacco companies have been using increasingly on plain packs “to recreate branding connotations”, like ‘legendary’ or ‘classic’ or ‘optimum crush sky’.
- Reduce the appeal not just of the packs but of the ‘sticks’ themselves. One tester responded to an unattractive green filter: “well the colours kind of remind me of death or sickness…kind of looks like a spew [vomit] or something …”
- Make pack warnings more salient and effective: health warnings don’t resonate for everyone, particularly for young people, so introduce messages on packs like: ‘Open this to look older, sooner’.
- Turning packs into quit portals by putting quit information as prominent as warnings.
Pacific Island tobacco control experts made a range of interesting presentations, including about a Cook Islands smoke-free household initiative that offered free immunisation and rat poison treatment for those who persisted.
It would have been good to have a big picture plenary session looking at prevalence rates in each represented nation, and successes and challenges in their tobacco control efforts – particularly given the terrible overall prognosis outlined by Professor Alan Lopez and the reminder that developing nations are being targeted now by tobacco companies.
For many countries, there’s a bit of ‘watch and see’ what happens to the tobacco industry’s challenges to Australia’s plain packaging laws, as this Croakey interview with New Zealand Public Health Professor Richard Edwards canvases.
Or read this article by Edwards and Hoek calling for action on plain packaging.
Choking the supply
The conference heard that some Sydney households have as many as 181 different tobacco retail outlets within under two kilometres, and that it’s as easy to buy cigarettes as bread, milk or postage stamps.
Kylie Kindoorff from Cancer Council Victoria asked what if we focused attention on supply as much as we have demand, and learned some lessons from France’s highly regulated (though also very anti tobacco control tobacco retailers.
Les buralistes must undergo mandatory training, can operate only one outlet, have to publicly report monthly sales figures and nominate minimum prices each month, she said.
In Australia, 5 out of 8 states have some form of retailer licensing but none with the explicit aim of reducing the number of retailers or controlling who can sell tobacco and where or when.
Conceding any action would not come overnight, she said it was time to start a dialogue with government and the community on the issue of supply, with suggestions like:
- Strategic licensing – reducing retailer numbers and hours of sale, restricting locations such as near schools, concentrations in high smoking areas, and types of premises.
- Providing incentives to retailers to stop selling tobacco products, such as reduced council rates and business registration fees.
- Making tobacco retail a controlled state monopoly.
“We cannot reach ‘end game’ with tobacco without addressing supply,” Kindoorff said.
Other tobacco tidbits
Move over James Bond, there’s a new product placement in town.
Last year, the Cancer Institute New South Wales partnered with two Australian TV networks to embed anti-tobacco messages into two shows: and Channel 10’s drama ‘Wonderland’.
The move, researcher Katarzyna Bochynksa explained, was in response to changing media consumption, where many viewers now avoid the ad breaks in TV shows.
Viewers found the tobacco control storylines introduced to both programs quite engaging, she said, with high rates of viewers reporting that they had made them stop and think, felt motivated to quit smoking, and had taken quit related action as a consequence.
But she said there were challenges too, including limited control of the message and content, particularly as shows were produced by contracted production houses. The early sense was that “health lifestyle reality shows might be more effective sites for embedded content than drama”.
The conference also heard that a very effective Break the Chain anti-smoking advertisement aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers also resonated well with people more generally from disadvantaged and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The advertisement talks about the long-term impact on family due to smoking related illness. See the full evaluation of the campaign.
• Thanks very much to the #OTCC15 organisers, particularly Lorena Chapman from Cancer Council Western Australia, and to the many presenters and speakers who helped with stories and interviews, particularly Marita Hefler from the Menzies School of Health Research.