University of Otago researchers say the public support the plain packaging of tobacco, but a tobacco industry spokesman says the research proves little about real smoker behaviour. The ASPIRE2025 research group, including University of Otago marketing and public health professors, surveyed 418 smokers and 418 non-smokers in New Zealand in March.
Marketing department professor Janet Hoek said more than two-thirds of respondents supported plain packaging and support was expected to grow further.
Legislation for smoke-free bars and restaurants in 2003 was initially supported by about 35 per cent of people but now more than 80 per cent of New Zealanders supported the legislation, she said. "Support for plain packaging is already very high, but we would expect it to increase even further as the issues are debated and after plain packs are introduced." Plain packaging would be a logical and popular step towards achieving a smokefree New Zealand by 2025, she said.
Marketing professor Phil Gendall said tobacco companies argued packaging simply encouraged brand switching but the research found smokers were extremely brand loyal and unlikely to switch brands. Public Health professor Richard Edward, from Wellington, said a fifth of respondents agreed plain packaging would be unfair because it prevented the use of brands and logos. However, nearly three times as many respondents disagreed, he said.
Professor Gendall said a study found tobacco packaging communicated powerful brand identities to young adult smokers and non-smokers, and respondents could identify clear brand personalities for both familiar and unfamiliar cigarette brands.
"Removing brand imagery eliminates positive brand personalities that attract young people to smoking." British American Tobacco New Zealand general manager Steve Rush said the research did not prove that plain packaging would reduce tobacco consumption.
"The research is attitudinal and is based on opinions. It's about how people think they might behave in the future. It's not about how people actually behave." Tobacco packaging did not influence why people started smoking or quit, he said.
The reasons people smoked included family influence, peer pressure and risk-taking behaviour, Mr Rush said. "Packaging doesn't influence these decisions." Graphic health warnings failed to reduce tobacco consumption even though research predicted they would, Mr Rush said. Plain packaging would remove intellectual property rights, which should always be protected to support a strong and dynamic economy, he said.
It would violate international trade agreements and damage New Zealand's trading reputation, he said. Plain packaging would make it easier for counterfeiters to grow an unregulated black market, meaning more affordable tobacco, particularly for youth, he said.