The Unfiltered Truth
In a matter of weeks, cigarette packets could be stripped of all their branding as part of a government drive to stop people smoking. The Department of Health is reaching the end of a three-month consultation examining whether Britain should force tobacco companies to sell their products in plain packaging, emblazoned only with grim health warnings and shockingly graphic images of diseases caused by smoking.
After hearing from NHS bosses, public health experts and academics, this study will presents its findings on July 10. So far, only Australia has enacted similar legislation.
Dr Crawford Moodie, a senior research fellow at the University of Stirling and an expert on cigarette packaging, says: “People researching tobacco control have only recently started thinking about packaging, because they focused on the use of other forms of advertising, like billboards, television or newspapers. But since 2003, when tobacco advertising was banned, we have seen an explosion in packet design.”
Stripped of the old-fashioned methods of persuading customers to start smoking, the tobacco giants ploughed all their efforts into manufacturing enticing packets.
The first brand to change in the 21st century was Benson & Hedges, which brought in a slide packet that proved to be so attractive it caused sales to shoot up by 25 per cent in the first six months it was on the market. Sales then went up by another 32.5 per cent over the next year, netting Imperial Tobacco a massive £74m in extra profits.
Lambert & Butler, Britain’s biggest-selling brand, subsequently recorded a £60m sales boost after introducing a special shiny Celebration Pack in 2004, which commemorated its 25th anniversary.
In 2008, Silk Cut introduced a slender, lipstick-shaped packet that was deliberately designed to appeal to style-conscious females. Fiona Andrews, director of the Bristol-based anti-smoking group Smokefree South West, says: “The packets have changed and become so attractive, seductive even. Packaging is a silent salesman that means tobacco companies can communicate very effectively without needing prominent advertising campaigns.
“Adults like to think they are rational and are not influenced by shiny packaging, but what mum and dad don’t know is how vulnerable their children are. I’ve noticed packets of Benson & Hedges with the number 14 spelled out in Lego. Who is that aimed at? It’s difficult to believe packets aren’t aimed at the next generation of potential smokers.”
A study conducted by Cancer Research UK in April asked children what they felt when they saw a cigarette packet. One young boy responded by saying it made him feel as if he was “in a wonderland of happiness” while another said the red packet reminded him of a Ferrari.
A small girl simply emoted: “Yeah. Pink, pink, pink.”
However, there are some people who fear the potential ban on packaging could be the first step towards creating a repressive nanny state.
Christopher Snowdon, author of a book on tobacco control called Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of
Anti-Smoking, says: “Britain is becoming a very control-orientated society. This is a slippery slope. Ban cigarette packets and soon one thing will lead to another and we may see similar laws on alcohol, food or basically anything the British Medical Association doesn’t like.
“Can we let the medical profession run every aspect of our lives? I don’t believe people want to start smoking when they see a cigarette packet.”
The 20th century was the tobacco age, where ad men told us all sorts of porkies about cigarettes. We were told they could be healthy, that smoking was a glamorous pursuit favoured by film stars and musicians, and we all believed them – until the warnings were too dire to ignore.