An End to Branded Cigarettes

August 30th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Ending cigarette branding in Australia after graphic warnings in the U.S.

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The Responsibility Project

Almost a year after The Food and Drug Administration announced its move toward featuring graphic imagery on cigarette packaging in the U.S., two similar bills are moving through Australia’s Parliament that would take an additional step to reduce smoking: banning all tobacco company branding from cigarette packaging. So far, the bill has passed in the lower house unopposed and is expected to pass in the Senate in September.

According to Bloomberg, the proposed legislation, to take effect next year, “will ban logos and color variations on cigarette packages” and require that brand names be printed in a uniform font. However, the legislation would also require packaging to feature graphic images similar to those the FDA implemented in the U.S. in June 2011.

Anne Jackson, chief executive of Ash Australia, a non-profit funded by Cancer Council Australia and the Heart Foundation, told Bloomberg, “Other countries will follow. This is a light shining the way for others to do the same and many countries are already considering it.”

After the FDA’s successful implementation of graphic imagery and warning labels in the U.S. in June, one wonders if the United States will be the first to follow Australia. “We want to make sure every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes knows exactly what the risk is they are taking,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a news conference about the FDA’s decision last year.

But Jonathan Whiteson, medical director of NYU Langone Medical Center’s cardiac and pulmonary wellness and rehabilitation program, disagreed with the FDA’s original decision to feature graphic images. He told the Wall Street Journal that the “stop-in-your-track image of a diseased lung” needs to be followed quickly with a positive message about the benefits of stopping – such as breathing easier and being able to exercise.”

But if any man can claim to have been entrenched in the world of cigarette advertising, it’s Patrick Reynolds, grandson of RJ Reynolds and executive director of the Foundation for a Smokefree America. Reynolds’ father, brother and other relatives all died from smoking-related illnesses. When the images were passed, he told the UK’s Daily Mail, “This is going to stop kids from starting to smoke…and it’s going to give smokers a strong incentive to quit smoking.”

Research, however, suggests that for some smokers, the graphic death references may actually increase the likelihood that they’ll continue smoking. Weighing in on the labeling debate, Miller-McCune’s Tom Jacobs referenced a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that suggested that making smokers think they are less cool or attractive could be more effective than making them believe they’ll die from the habit.

The research, led by psychologist Jochim Hansen of New York University and the University of Basel, looked at cigarette pack warnings from the perspective of Terror Management Theory. He suggests that for many smokers, the threats to their lives implied in the graphic labels could result in a need to improve self-esteem, which ironically could mean a, “renewed commitment to smoking.”

What are your thoughts? Are the images the FDA implemented scary enough to get people to stop? Is Australia’s decision to put an end to cigarette branding something the FDA should consider? Are the warnings and images more harmful than helpful?

(A portion of this story was previously published as “Anti-Smoking Gets Graphic” on The Responsibility Project on 12/1/10)