Dr Rachel Pechey, first author of the study from the University of Cambridge's Behaviour and Health Research Unit, said: "Given that the majority of smokers first try smoking in adolescence, the impact on children is of particular importance. Nicotine dependence develops rapidly after lighting up for the first time, even before the user is smoking once a week."
The tobacco control experts indicated that plain packaging would reduce the numbers of children trying smoking because they expect younger people to be more affected by less appealing packs, less brand identification, and changes in social norms around smoking. This ties in with previous research that has described three ways in which plain packaging may reduce smoking rates, particularly among youth by reducing the appeal of packs, by increasing the salience of health warnings and by standardising pack colour.
Pechey added: "Despite the consistency of experts' predictions that plain packaging would reduce smoking rates, many participants felt that the two-year time frame we used was insufficient and did not allow for the full impact of the packaging. This suggests generic packaging could have a greater impact over a longer term period, as the impact on young people starting smoking feeds through into the adult smoking statistics."
Professor David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge Centre for Mathematical Sciences added: "Expert elicitation methods can guide policy makers by quantifying uncertainty where no direct evidence exists."
The UK government recently conducted a public consultation on the possible introduction of a plain packaging policy for tobacco products (from April to August 2012). It is estimated that treating diseases caused by smoking costs the NHS 2.7 billion a year.***
|Contact: Genevieve Maul|
University of Cambridge