The UK Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley has suggested cigarettes should be sold in plain packaging, as ‘the evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers’.
Sadly for those who want to prevent smoking, he appears to be talking cobblers – as suggested by the fact the previous Government ditched the same plan two years ago due to a lack of evidence to that effect.
What’s happened is that there’s a misunderstanding of the role of branding in cigarette smokers.
- People encourage other people to start smoking.
- Branding and People influence which particular product someone smokes.
Removing branding won’t make any difference to the amount of people trying smoking. It might make a difference in the number of cigarette companies, but the spread of cigarette smoking is largely spread by encountering other people that smoke and being influenced by them in some way. There’s a handy chapter in The Tipping Point on the triggers for smoking, quoting examples of being influenced by people who were seen as cool, and also smoked. The basic hypothesis is that some people who smoke happen to be cool, and therefore smoking is perceived as cool (Rather than smoking making someone cool – the reality is that it makes people smell of tobacco, wheeze when they’re running, and end up dying earlier more often than if they hadn’t smoked – but as a smoker for over 10 years, I already know this).
So why do tobacco companies spend so much on marketing, and finding ways to place their brands in your eye, despite cigarette advertising bans?
The first cigarette I ever tried was a Silk Cut Ultra Light – and yet for 10 years I’ve smoked Marlboro. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that Ayrton Senna drove a Marlboro McLaren, Wayne Rainey rode a Marlboro Yamaha, and I actually suffered through the feature film ‘Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man‘. Given the choice, I’ll pay a slight premium for the familiar taste and amount of nicotine, plus the branding and image etc. But if that brand vanished tomorrow, I’d find another one in the time it took to run out of cigarettes. The fact is that in the past I’ve bought John Player Specials (JPS Lotus, JPS Norton), and Rothmans (Rothman Honda in the Wayne Gardner era) as fall-backs which have no relation in taste or nicotine levels.
I’d reveal a more effective way to tackle smoking, but unfortunately there’s a limit to how long I can write about the topic without nipping outside for a cigarette…