Maybe nanny got it right – plain packaging is already working

In this guest posting, Tony Prysten reckons that plain cigarette packaging is already having an effect on smokers.

A long term campaign can have short term benefits – even if today’s media can’t quite see past the now.

Working with Quit Victoria over the past few years has given me a rare insight into some of the significant moments and campaigns that will positively change lives for many in the years ahead.

The world-first introduction of plain packaging over two weeks ago passed with relatively little fanfare. Interestingly much of the debate centred around smokers and whether this would affect their smoking. Social channels and comments on articles were rife with smokers proudly claiming this would have no effect on them, was a waste of money and is further evidence we are living in a Nanny state.

It’s a simple proposition – put cigarettes in packaging that is not only magnificently ugly but also gives a true picture of the devastating harms of smoking in the hope that our kids don’t even think about taking up the habit. It’s a long term play and Quit have maintained that the true results of this will not be seen for some time, supporting many smokers’ claims that this was a waste of effort.

Smokers can have a tendency to feel that the world is against them however this time, strategically, plain packaging legislation was focussed squarely on future generations, a message often lost in the media.

Maybe that’s not so surprising. With today’s 24 hour news cycle, instant reporting on social media and desire to engage audiences (code for write stuff that makes them respond), the media chose not to focus on the campaign’s objective – let’s face it, six year olds aren’t going to comment on the herald sun website – instead targeting current smokers’ attitudes towards the campaign.

Surprisingly, early indications of a ‘side effect’ of this strategy show that plain packaging might be having an effect on current smokers. Since the introduction of the new packaging, calls to the Quitline have increased at a time of year when calls generally decline (December). Despite smokers saying plain packaging would have no effect on their smoking, many are commenting on their cigarettes tasting worse as well as going to considerable effort to hide their cigarettes (do you mean hide the warnings?) and feeling awkward in social situations.

Basically smokers are finding it hard to have a single cigarette without being confronted with the lethal consequences.

Anecdotal research on social channels is also showing a similar trend; from denial “Got   a flip top tin to keep them in. Not that the warnings bothered me anyway”, to the sickening “I want mouth cancer because I was Bryan last time #plainpackaging” (For non-smokers out there, this refers to smokers choosing the least offensive packs when buying cigarettes). While many smokers (or cigarette companies commenting as smokers) are fiercely defending their habit, many others are being motivated to try quitting.

Like the introduction of compulsory seat belts I am sure we will look back on this legislation as a significant moment that changed the lives of the next generation. Already, on a global stage, Australia is being recognised as being truly progressive.

I only need to look at my two young kids and think this time, nanny got it right.

Tony Prysten is the creative director of Igloo Digital, which today launched a campaign for Quit Victoria targeting smokers who hide the health warnings on the new cigarette packets.


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