Guest blog: Make cigarettes less attractive to children

(43 Posts)
JessMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 27-Aug-13 11:04:06

Every year 207,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking in the UK. Evidence shows that putting tobacco in standard packs makes cigarettes less attractive. However, proposals to introduce plain packaging for all tobacco products were recently dismissed by the government.

Elizabeth Bailey, an Ambassador for Cancer Research UK, explains why changing the way cigarettes are marketed could make a difference - and what we can do to give our children the best chance for a healthy future.

Let us have your thoughts on the thread - and if you blog on this issue, don't forget to post your URL. Also, please do share on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Hello, I'm Elizabeth: 48 year-old mother of two girls, a local council worker, postgrad student, and breast cancer survivor. I've written this guest post because something has happened over my girls' summer holiday that has frustrated me beyond belief.

That thing is David Cameron's decision to shelve proposals to introduce standardised, (or 'plain') packaging for cigarettes. It's a decision I find incomprehensible.

Under the proposed plans, all tobacco products and cigarettes would be packaged in a standard shape without branding, design or logo and with clear health warnings. The evidence is clear: today's tobacco packaging attracts children, but standardised packs with picture health warnings are a turn off. Removing the glitz and glam packaging that tobacco companies use to lure new consumers would give children one less reason to start smoking.

I dare say you've already read about the campaign in the news, and perhaps picked up on the suggestion that the PM's adviser, Lynton Crosby, who has strong links with the tobacco industry might somehow be involved in the turnaround. Maybe, who knows? What I do know is - that decision was plain wrong.

Let me tell you something else about myself. As a child, I was poisoned by my neighbours. Yes, you read that right. I don't blame them - they didn't mean to do it. As it happens, they were being poisoned themselves, and had been since they were children, too.

I often found myself sitting in rooms with yellow walls; hacking coughs were just part of the background sound. Each day, twice a day, I travelled back and forth in a smoke-filled box called a corporation bus. I was just a child - to me, arsenic and cyanide belonged in the murder mysteries I watched on the TV. I had no idea I was breathing them in every day: no-one told me, and no-one asked me if I was happy with that.

People who didn't grow up in a working-class town in the 1970s like I did maybe don't appreciate the huge improvements in all of our lives brought about by laws on tobacco. Our kids breathe much cleaner air than I did - and that's because people like us bothered to make a stand.

My message to you is this: don't take it for granted. We've moved on since the 70s, but 567 children are still taking up smoking each day in the UK. It's a shocking statistic, but there are things we can do to stop it - and taking glamorous branding off cigarette packs is one of those things.

Please think about it. I can't be certain if my own cancer, or the cancer my dad Eric, a smoker since his teens, died from were linked to smoke. I can be fairly confident the heart disease Dad suffered for the last 25 year of his life was. We just thought it was one of those things middle-aged people got - his own dad, a docker who smoked a respectable, manly brand, he thought, died of a heart attack. That's what happened to a lot of working men.

Why did they get caught up with this rubbish? The answer is simple: they were reeled in as teenagers, with promises of sophistication - only to find themselves unable to escape a highly addictive drug.

And you know what, advertising and branding did make a difference. It mattered what brand you smoked. In the 70s, Navy Cut were considered a bit more gentlemanly than Wills Woodbines; Embassy and Regal were great working man's fags - and of course, Silk Cut were for ladies. Then the 80s came, and people took up Camels, or American brands like Marlboro or, the very height of cool, Lucky Strike. And those days aren't over - nowadays it's all about girls being targeted by brands like Vogue and Glamour.

Some people might think standardised packaging won't work, and that kids starting smoking is entirely down to peer pressure. I don't think so. You just need to look at the video Cancer Research UK did of children discussing brands on cigarette packs. And as mums and dads, you know already know that children respond to branding - those of us who've tried to persuade our children to accept the 'unbranded' version of a particular toy or product know full well how wedded children and teens are to particular brands. Tobacco companies spend lots of money on pack design for a reason - and it's not because they want to make our lives more colourful. It's because, by their own admission, it's one of the only marketing tools left to them - and it works.

Listen up, ladies and gents. I have had a cancer diagnosis. I have sat outside the hospital screening unit in the pouring rain howling with grief because I thought I would not see my two beautiful daughters grow up. You do not want your children to experience that. So you don't want them enticed by clever, insidious marketing techniques to take up a habit that is not only more addictive than class A drugs, but is the biggest preventable cause of cancer.

I don't want cigarettes banned; I don't want to get at smokers, or even people holding down a job in the tobacco industry. I just want my children to have dangerous products packaged appropriately.

One last thing - if you're thinking 'the government won't do this because they need the tax' - that's a pub myth. If it were true, successive governments would not have introduced the controls they already have. In fact, it is estimated that the annual cost to the public purse is a third again above the money brought in by tobacco tax.

That's a big cost to us all. But nothing compared to the health of your children. Signing up to Cancer Research's campaign could really make a difference.

Sistermary Tue 27-Aug-13 13:24:08

I cant agree more . This post says it all really. I too am an ex -smoker and a cancer survivor as well. I find it shocking to see a pack of cigarettes packaged to look like a sleek bottle of sophisticated perfume, to fit into a glamorous handbag. Others have a high gloss sparkle, or are stream lined to look lean and slim. Hard to believe the thousands of poisons in there! Im worried that Mr Cameron has paid more attention to the tobacco industries fear of losing profits over the health of our children. I read that between 150,000 -200,000 people in the Uk die each year from smoking related diseases and around the same number take it up! The PM says he is waiting to see what happens in Australia where plain packs have been introduced. The info shows though that it is working! Less children taking it up, more adults quitting!

The trouble is about 80% of those taking up smoking in the UK are children under 19, many as young as 11. I am so grateful my son doesn't smoke. Smoking killed his grandfather and it gave me cancer. But what about my grandchildren?

SPBisResisting Tue 27-Aug-13 13:26:36

Done and thank you. Very valuable campaign. Let's prevent children and young people from taking up smoking, improve their health as adults and stop them dying before they should.

mrscog Tue 27-Aug-13 13:35:43

I don't disagree, but before legislation is passed I would like to see the legal challenges ironed out so that the taxpayer isn't left funding a massive legal battle over it all.

I also think that smoking is less visable than ever which has got to be a good thing. My DS is only 18 months, but other than in the street I don't think he would ever see anyone smoking as no one in our family or any of our friends smoke. When he's old enough for play dates I will not allow him to houses where anyone smokes - those friends will have to play at our house. Obviously plain packaging will add to this invisibility, I do think it's a delay rather than off the agenda.

I hate smoking, and long term I would like to see it banned in all public places, indoor or outdoor and allowed on private property only. Have signed the campaign.

hawthornthree Tue 27-Aug-13 19:11:08

Saw a great advert the other day - a poster made to look like a golden virginia tobacco logo but instead with the words 'Dementia' - 'smoking roll ups increases your risk of dementia.' I think there should be a concerted campaign to have posters mimicking all sorts of cigarette brands but inserting the risks of smoking instead. Money must be the reason behind Cameron's decision. There has to be a massive ad campaing to subvert the seductive imagery of cigarettes into something less attractive.

hawthornthree Tue 27-Aug-13 19:12:20

We went to Germany this summer and were shocked to see families of all classes with the parents smoking beside their children. Even still in some restaurants. sad

SubliminalMassaging Tue 27-Aug-13 19:12:42

I agree with everything you've said, except that I don't think changing packaging on cigarettes is going to make a bit of difference, in fact it would have the opposite of the desired effect - the more subversive and undergound it seems the more young people will seek it out as something cool and a bit edgy to do.

The only way to make sure that smoking becomes less of an attraction to children is to stop doing it in front of them. So many children grow up think that smoking is a rite of passage to adulthood. They are always told by everyone that they must not do it - it's this taboo thing that's only for grown ups, and they look around and so many of the grown ups they love and admire doing it - so what message does that send? Do this and you'll be considered a grown up? hmm We need to stop normalising it as something that only 'grown ups' do. There's only one way to do that. Stop bloody well doing it!

JennySense Tue 27-Aug-13 20:20:44

We know marketing works so I fully support the standardised packaging. I had no idea about Vogue and Glamour cigarettes - yuk!

TallulahTT Tue 27-Aug-13 20:33:19

It irritates me that the law has been changed to keep cigarette displays up of view however x amount of times a week Corantation Street is broadcast to millions of people and the cabin is filmed with cigarette packets in the background when the programme also indicates it is paid for product placement. Factually smaller shops have longer to hide their displays but it's not a shop, it's a set!

SubliminalMassaging Tue 27-Aug-13 20:33:21

I genuinely do not think that children start smoking because they notice the subtle differences in the way cigarettes are marketed. Initially they just buy whatever's cheapest, let's face it. Only later once the habit and the addiction takes over is branding a factor, and by that stage it will be also a matter of personal taste/strength/flavour preference, not just which is the prettiest box.

They don't start because they like the logo, they start because it's what grown ups do. So grown ups need to stop doing it.

Ageingkeenie Tue 27-Aug-13 21:33:10

Thing is, though, the branding is not remotely subtle. 'Vogue' and 'Glamour' are aimed definitely aimed at girls. But I agree, it would help if grown ups around them stopped.

SamEM Tue 27-Aug-13 23:39:58

I don't think we can kid ourselves marketing, including packaging has no impact - companies spend thousands upon millions on advertising, including logos and packaging. Packaging might not put the idea of smoking in a child's head in the first place, but packaging is designed to help create a mood and association, and add that extra air of sophistication or glamour to tempt someone to try. I know all too well how a glimpse of a Galaxy wrapper reminds me what I like about it so I grab one on impulse - I'd feel a lot happier if cigarette companies weren't in a position to reach children in the same way.

PeriodMath Tue 27-Aug-13 23:46:56

Make them in the shape of little vegetables.

GloriaJones121 Tue 27-Aug-13 23:49:04

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WowOoo Wed 28-Aug-13 10:20:25

Agree wholeheartedly.
Also agree with MrsCog. We shouldn't have to fund any legal battles through tax. Good point.

After all, the reason Cameron hasn't acted yet is the amount of revenue cigarettes bring the treasury.

Brand loyalty is a huge thing. My friend will only smoke Camel and another Marlboro lights. They both started at Uni. I don't know if plain packs will help them to see the light though.

Is there anything as well as the Cancer research campaign we can do?

WowOoo Wed 28-Aug-13 10:25:30

Also - if my Camel smoking friend's daughter doesn't see the brand, may she be less likely to smoke? I don't know. She loves and idolises her Mum v much. It's really very sad, isn't it?

Shopkeepers have a load to answer for here.
I once argued with a man and threatened to call trading standards.
The teenager he sold some fags to was no where near 16. Or is it 18 now? She looked 14 at the most to me.

They should not be able to buy them without ID.

SubliminalMassaging Wed 28-Aug-13 10:49:45

I agree that marketing (limited as it is these days, so it's more a branding issue really) has an impact on what you smoke - I'm just not convinced it affects whether you smoke.

spiacentini Wed 28-Aug-13 17:17:51

Hello Elizabeth,
Like you I am a 53 year old survivor of breast cancer, a mum and a Cancer Campaigns ambassador for Cancer Research UK.

I am equally dismayed by David Cameron's decision to shelve proposals to introduce standardised, (or 'plain') packaging for cigarettes.

I met my MP to discuss standardised packaging last year and he did write to the previous Secretary of State on my behalf. Like you I recall the discomfort of travelling on smoke filled carriages when the non-smoking ones were full and although we have come a long way in discouraging children to start, (e.g. My daughter commented favourably on the recent display ban within shops), the fact remains children are extremely vulnerable to marketing and peer pressure.

Anyone who has taken young children shopping will know how TV characters on food can make a toddler convinced that a certain food product must be bought and many parents will be alarmed when their child comes home from school requesting their first outrageously expensive designer t shirt. Cigarette packs do convey image and I was extremely concerned by those cigarette packs that look more like perfume than a dangerous addictive substance.

I have recently enjoyed reaching my 5 year survival point following my cancer diagnosis, it was a day I worried I would not see and with a daughter to bring up you will understand how difficult the last 5 years have been. What concerns me greatly is how lung cancer survival rates are so poor and have improved little (whereas breast cancer survival has improved greatly). This increases our need to protect children from tobacco.

Here in Scotland, The Scottish Parliament are in favour of standardised packaging but have delayed legislation pending the outcome in England, but I hope we can all come to the same conclusion.
As a teenager I went to an open day at a cigarette factory and was given a pack of cigarettes, the pack sat on my bedroom window for ages, tempting me, until I finally had the courage to throw the pack away without opening it.

I spent a couple of summers working at the same factory- a fact I am not proud of, but at least it gave me the opportunity to see how addictive the habit is, as fellow workers helped themselves from the machines and smoked at breaks at all times of the day from 6am to 10pm whatever shift they were on.

When I was on my way back from one of my early visits to the hospital I passed some offices and some workers were outside smoking- it was very tempting to talk to them and try and persuade them to give up- I did not as it is supposedly a matter of free will- would they start if they knew what cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are like? But is it really a matter of free will when attracted by packaging, an addictive habit is started that is so hard to stop?

minipie Wed 28-Aug-13 17:34:34

I agree with Subliminal on this. When I tried my first cigarette as a very young teenager, I didn't ask which brand it was before inhaling. I doubt anyone does.

gowertan Wed 28-Aug-13 17:40:24

Factors associated with children starting smoking are clearly varied: there's a good info-graphic from the Public Health Research Consortium cited in this 2010 Govt report - http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100509080731/http://dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/@ps/documents/digitalasset/dh_111789.pdf

Regardless of any other reasons, it's very clear to me that cigarette packaging has some impact. There is some pretty compelling research supporting this:
http://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/cms/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=j54fXGDr5Ps%3D&tabid=3327

I also can recall being attracted to Silk Cut imagary when I started smoking at the age of 13 - the shape and design of today's Silk Cut Slims or Vogue (as examples) are undoubtedly aimed at young girls (and lets be honest, that includes girls below the legal age at which people can smoke). Standardising packs with dull colours, graphic warnings and imagery will give my 13 and 8 year old kids one less reason to try smoking. I definitely support this campaign.

I think its important to encourage teenagers to actively not smoke, rather than teaching them not to smoke iyswim...

cindy21 Wed 28-Aug-13 20:05:10

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Fraxinus Wed 28-Aug-13 23:56:58

Suzy sheep... Do you mean like the virginity pledge parties they have in the U.S?

I was alarmed to see my daughter pretending to smoke recently, with a glowing stick from the barbecue.

She is pretending to smoke because she sees her extended family smoking. I am sure her awareness of brands at this stage is minimal. I think we need to do what we canto reduce the appeal, and if there is research suggesting plain packaging will help, then we should have plain packaging. But let's not kid ourselves that it will stop my daughter seeing the grown ups light up after dinner, and associate it as an adult activity, which may or may not become desirable as she grows up.

insanityscratching Thu 29-Aug-13 05:23:17

I'm not convinced that the packaging and branding is what influences a child to smoke tbh. I suspect being around parents and peers who smoke is a bigger factor.
My four adult children don't smoke and have never smoked I think the fact that I was very open that my mother died when I was 17 because she smoked probably was a deterrent alongside me stating that I would cut off all allowances if it was spent on cigarettes.
My youngest is ten and never knew about smoking until she started school when she saw people with "fire sticks". She is similarly anti smoking especially since she saw a tv programme that mentioned passive smoking linked to glue ear and now covers her ears if she sees someone smoking because her wonderful imagination has determined that smoking turns your ears into glue grin and I haven't bothered to correct her wink

Longdistance Thu 29-Aug-13 14:30:32

I think educating children from early on about smoking should deter them more than anything. Starting from the age of 9, just before some children do start smoking at 11.

I had an uncle who was a 60 a dayer. He was hospitalized several times due to smoking related illnesses. The first was thrombosis, and then later on stroke. He had several strokes throughout his life, and then eventually had a massive when in 2007, and that is when we passed away. He was ill for the majority of the time as I remember, and all to do with smoking. He has gout on his feet that would never heal up, and was disables through his strokes, of which were many.

I do think striking whilst the irons hot, when children can be taught about the dangers of smoking and it's consequences is essential. I do remember thinking as a child how 'stupid' my uncle was to smoke after all of his health scares, and through my adult life knowing him.

I still detest it as much, as I did as a child. It wasn't just the smell, it was because it had gripped my uncle, and we cared for him very much. He passed away a bachelor and no children, and we were his only family. It was very sad indeed.

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