According to a recent study published in the current issue of the journal Addiction, plain packaging may reduce smoking by degrading cue-elicited tobacco-seeking.
In order to understand the potential influence of plain tobacco packaging policy, a team of researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Bristol led by Lee Hogarth, Associate Professor at the University of Exeter, conducted two experiments in a sample of adult smokers (experiment 1, n = 23, experiment 2, n = 121), aimed at evaluating whether ‘prototype’ plain compared with branded UK cigarette pack incitements would differentially stimulate instrumental tobacco-seeking in a nominal Pavlovian to instrumental transfer (PIT) procedure.
In the study titled “Plain cigarette packs do not exert Pavlovian to instrumental transfer of control over tobacco-seeking,” smokers were trained to choose between response earned points for cigarettes and chocolate, before images of branded and plain packs were tested for their capacity to elicit a tobacco-seeking response. By doing this, the researchers aimed to test the percentage of choice of tobacco over chocolate response in plain pack, branded pack and no-stimulus conditions.
The results showed that compared to branded tobacco packs, plain tobacco packs showed an overall 9% reduction in the priming of a tobacco choice response.
In a recent news release, Associate Professor Lee Hogarth stated, “The key finding was that plain cigarette packs were about 10% less likely to prompt participants to make the tobacco choice compared to branded packs. In fact, the plain packs promoted no more tobacco choice than when nothing was presented. These findings provide experimental support for the idea that introducing plain packaging might reduce tobacco purchasing or consumption.”
However, the results must be carefully interpreted, according to Professor Marcus Munafo from the University of Bristol and co-author of the study, “The experimental procedure only modeled the ability of pack stimuli to promote a cigarette-seeking choice. In the natural environment, smoking may be governed by a whole range of factors, including tobacco withdrawal, the presence of other people smoking, time of day, and so on. It is not clear to what extent plain packaging will reduce smoking when these other factors are at play.”
In the news release, Associate Professor Hogarth concluded, “Our study demonstrated that, under some circumstances, plain packaging can reduce cigarette-seeking behavior. Policy makers must consider how much weight to place on this observation when considering the potential pros and cons of introducing plain packing as a national policy.”