Plain packaging on products- might make you smoke but good for your pocket.
The Government are fiddling again, and right now they are poised to announce a public consultation on "plain packaging" for tobacco products. The idea is that, with all cigarettes in plain white boxes, there will be no brand recognition, advertising will become pointless and smoking will no longer be cool. But are they right?
In anticipation of this consultation, UK-based London Economics did some surveying and testing of 3,000 people and offered them a range of products, including crisps, cigarettes, chocolate, beer, bottled water, ice-cream and toothpaste. They tested consumers preferences under various scenarios in which combinations of information like price, brand name, brand imagery, product information or advertising were presented, and the results were consistent across the majority of products, for both smokers and non-smokers alike.
The "comprehensive" study showed that plain packaging would likely result in consumers switching from premium brands to cheaper products. This is good news. You can now legitimately go and buy that cheap cereal/coffee/gin you’ve always wanted to safe in the knowledge that your taste buds are wrong and your pocket is right. Just ask Aldi.
"Our analysis suggests that packaging imagery is a source of information that helps consumers differentiate between alternative product characteristics," says Dr. Gavan Conlon, a Partner at London Economics. "If consumers can't differentiate between brands in the market, they opt for cheaper brands, whether it's beer, cigarettes or almost any other product.”
The boffins went on to conclude that, if plain packaging means falling prices, then everyone will suddenly start smoking, because it will be so ridiculously cheap. “If manufacturers respond by competing on price to maintain market share, prices may decline. In simple economic terms, when prices decline the demand increases and that's what might occur with the introduction of plain packaging" finished Dr. Conlon, waving his cigarette enigmatically.
So is the Government so wrong on this? Previous research studies had shown that plain packaging would have a positive effect on smoking cessation. London Economics pooh-poohed previous research claiming it “relies on statements of intention of what people might do, rather than analysing people's actual behaviour”.
As the report points out, reducing smoking rates should be the objective of any public health policy, advising governments to “base policy on robust evidence, and exercise some caution in interpreting the headline conclusions of policy-related research.”
Hmm. Perhaps they should also exercise caution, and practice their surprised face, when research funded by none other than Philip Morris International Inc. suggests that plain packaging on cigarettes is a bad thing…