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'Plain Jane' Tobacco Packs Make Smoking Less Sexy

Update Date: Jul 22, 2013 08:12 PM EDT

Plain packaging really does make smoking less sexy, a new study suggests.

Australian researchers found that plain packaging also increases the urge to quit tobacco, according to Australian scientists.

So far, Australia is the only country in the world to introduce plain brown packaging accompanied with graphic health warning on front of all tobacco products.

The current study, published in the online journal BMJ Open, aimed to analyze the effects the policy was having in the early stages of the new policy and whether it helped curb the appeal of tobacco, emphasize its harms and promote thoughts of quitting among smokers.

Researchers interviewed 536 smokers in the Australian state of Victoria during November 2012 when plain packs were already available, in the run-up to, and immediately after the implementation of the law requiring all tobacco sold at retail outlets to be contained in plain packs.

The study revealed that 72.3 percent of smokers were smoking cigarettes from plain packs while 27.7 percent were still using branded packs with smaller health warnings.

Researchers asked smokers if they were as satisfied with their cigarettes as they were a year ago, and whether they felt the quality was the same. Researchers also asked smokers how often they thought about the harms of smoking and about quitting smoking and if they approved the pain pack policy. Smokers were also asked if they thought the harms of smoking had been exaggerated.

While the perception of exaggerated tobacco harm or the frequency with which smokers thought about the damage cigarettes might be doing to them differed little between the two groups, plain pack smokers were 51 percent more likely to back the plain pack policy than brand pack smokers.

Plain pack smokers were also 66 percent more likely to think their cigarettes were poorer quality than a year ago and 70 percent more likely to say they found them less satisfying.  The study found that they were also 81 percent more likely to think about quitting at least once a day during the previous week and to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives compared to brand pack smokers.

Researchers noted that as the date for the legislation drew nearer, and more of the participants in the study were smoking from plain packs, the responses of those smoking brand packs more closely matched those of plain pack smokers in terms of smoking's appeal.

Researchers said this could simply reflect the reduced likelihood of being able to smoke from a brand pack or "social contagion".

"The finding that smokers smoking from a plain pack evidenced more frequent thought about, and priority for quitting, than branded pack smokers is important, since frequency of thoughts about quitting has strong predictive validity in prospective studies for actually making a quit attempt," researchers wrote.

"Overall, the introductory effects we observed are consistent with the broad objectives of the plain packaging legislation. We await further research to examine more durable effects on smokers and any effects on youth," they added.

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