New research suggests that the 2012 introduction of plain packaging and larger pictorial health warnings on cigarette and tobacco packs is proving useful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Professor Tom Calma AO, National Coordinator of the Tackling Indigenous Smoking project, provides an overview of the findings below, and cautions that more work is needed to reduce the toll of smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The study, Plain packaging implementation: perceptions of risk and prestige of cigarette brands among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, was published by Raglan Maddox, Sarah Durkin andRay Lovett in the latest edition of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
Tom Calma writes:
The introduction of plain packaging and associated health warnings has been a success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, new research suggests.
Research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the ACT and surrounding areas found they were better informed about the risks of smoking as a result of the policy.
Before its introduction, they were significantly more likely to mistakenly think that some brands of cigarettes were less harmful than others.
In addition, after the introduction of plain packs, there was a decrease in the proportion of younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people indicating that ‘some cigarette brands are more prestigious than others’.
The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 and Regulations 2011 prohibits brand imagery, logos, promotional text, and includes restrictions on colour, format, size and materials of packaging, as well as brand and variant names on tobacco products.
Objectives of plain packaging are to reduce the ability of the retail packaging of tobacco products to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking; reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products to consumers, particularly young people; increase the noticeability and effectiveness of mandated health warnings; and through the achievement of these aims in the long term, as part of a comprehensive range of tobacco control measures, contribute to efforts to reduce smoking rates.
The study’s findings provide important support for regulatory measures to prohibit the use of misleading package imagery in product marketing, as prescribed in Articles 11, 12 and 13 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as well as the key international and domestic leadership role of the Australian Government.
However, more work is required.
The Australian Government has an opportunity to continue, and to accelerate de-normalising tobacco use; addressing the cause of one in five of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths, the estimated 15,000 Australian tobacco related deaths, and the $31.5 billion in tobacco related social and economic costs each year.
In my role as National Coordinator – Tackling Indigenous Smoking, I am overseeing the Tackling Indigenous Smoking Programme to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to reduce the number of people smoking and to encourage people not to take up smoking.
The Tackling Indigenous Smoking programme complements and leverages off tobacco control measures—such as plain packaging, increases in tax excise and smoke-free polices—by using innovative and culturally appropriate, community-based approaches to address uptake and smoking by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In continuing to act locally, working nationally we should take the leadership role to improve, increase and establish national initiatives, such as improving accessibility to Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT), expanding smoke-free areas and establishing all prisons to be smoke-free across the country.
Reducing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who smoke is essential in realising the goal of closing the gap in health status equality and life expectancy.
With strong leadership and by working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves, we can halve the Indigenous smoking rate over the next decade and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people more opportunity to live long and healthy lives.
Other key findings from the study:
- It is fundamentally deceptive and misleading to allow a continuation in the perception that some cigarettes are less hazardous than others, including so-called ‘additive free’, ‘natural’ or ‘lower tar’ cigarettes, given that conventional cigarette brands present the same level of risk.
- Government agencies committed to tobacco control should investigate regulating the use of brand imagery, logos and promotional text on tobacco.
For information on how to stop smoking, please call the Quitline on 13 78 48, visit www.icanquit.com.au or your local Aboriginal Medical Service, GP or medical practitioner.