Will plain packaging cut smoking?

What’s now olive green carries a serious message in pictures and words and is bad for your health? The answer is cigarettes and that is how they will appear from May.

And while a new review suggests that plain cigarette packaging could lead to 300,000 fewer smokers in the UK over the next year, a smokers’ group said the estimates were ‘wishful thinking’ and tobacco manufacturers say the report shows that young people will not be deterred from smoking.

UK law, which comes into full effect in May, states that all cigarette packs must feature health warnings and have a standard colour, shape and font. The only colour permitted on the external pack is olive green with a matt finish and misleading information on tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide emissions must be removed as must any promotional descriptors such as references to flavours.

The Cochrane review found that standardised packs could also reduce the appeal of tobacco and increase calls to quit help lines. The team, led by researchers from London and Oxford, estimated that the number of people who smoked in the UK could go down by 0.5% by May 2018, although they said the current evidence was limited.

They also said no change in the number of cigarettes smoked by those continuing to smoke while there would be a 6% increase in people trying to give up smoking and an increase in calls to quit smoking help lines.

However, there were no studies showing whether changing the packaging affected the number of young people taking up smoking. Currently, about 17% of the UK adult population are smokers.

Referring to the Cochrane review, Giles Roca, director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, told the BBC: “This report destroys the rationale for the introduction of plain packaging by finding no evidence that it actually acts a deterrent to young people in taking up smoking – this was at the core of the government’s and health campaigners’ argument for its introduction.”

And Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said the estimates were ‘wishful thinking, based on hope and anecdotal evidence, not facts’.

Professor Ann McNeill, lead review author from King’s College London, said there was evidence that standardised packaging made people less likely to be motivated to smoke and reduced cravings for tobacco.

The health warnings, which have to cover 65% of the front and back of packs, were prominently in people’s eye lines, she said. But there was room for further changes to cigarette packs.

While the debate continues, it is proven that clinical hypnotherapy is three times more likely to make people quit smoking, says the National Council for Hypnotherapy.

Says the NCH: “Did you know that your physical addiction to cigarettes can be over after just one week? And research shows that by quitting smoking with hypnosis you are three times more likely to give up than if you used nicotine patches.”

Regarding treatment for smoking, the NCH adds: “It may only be a one session treatment as smoking is a habit that you can give up for good, so the therapist may use what is known as aversion techniques which will put you off having another cigarette. The therapist will assess your habit and write a treatment plan for you based on a range of different techniques. Each hypnotherapist will work with you differently.

“Your hypnotherapist will then assess your commitment to the treatment, as the desire to stop the behaviour or change the behaviour must come from you. If you want to give up smoking for someone else, it is unlikely to work.”