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Guest blog: Make cigarettes less attractive to children

(44 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.

Tom999 Sat 22-Nov-14 12:25:38

I agree that attractive packaging attracts kids. But, I would differ in the sense that tobacco, nicotine, cigarettes end up in addiction where nothing matters to attract. I guess, I was attracted while a teen is because of the cool quotient seen in movies. A general notion attached to it that to be a man one needs to prove it. The shortest way was smoking. Government neither has taken any step to ban manufacturing nor advertisement in movies.

Check my website

SPBisResisting Mon 02-Sep-13 21:40:33

Didnt packs used ti have pictues of diseased lungs on? When and why did thay stop

nikkim553 Mon 02-Sep-13 19:10:32

It is so important that we all email David Cameron and do everything we can to discourage our young people from starting smoking in the first place. As a Marketing Director I am very aware of the power of branding and image and it is clear that this matters a lot to the big tobacco companies, otherwise, why would they be doing everything they can to try to stop standard packaging and to spend so much on it?

SamEM Sun 01-Sep-13 20:24:58

I like the 'I'm Smelly/ Weak Minded' idea! Australia are using something even more to the point, as would we have been if the tobacco companies hadn't got their way - rather grisly pictures of cancerous mouths and eyeballs with a large banner 'smoking causes mouth cancer/ blindness'. The packs go from being something sleek and fashionable, to a stark way to remind kids - and everyone else - what's at stake. It's a worthy campaign in my book.

WowOoo Sat 31-Aug-13 21:52:55

Sistermary, thanks for that info re the treasury.
That's such a huge amount.

BoffinMum Sat 31-Aug-13 17:17:05

Tell teenage girls cigarettes give you bad cellulite.

minipie Sat 31-Aug-13 15:20:09

gin, it's good if they're choosing e cigs over paper ones of course, it's just not good if the e cigs are attracting some kids who might never have smoked at all otherwise.

Sistermary Sat 31-Aug-13 12:55:15

Re the amount of money cigarettes bring to the treasury. The stats show that we spend about a third more on the devastating effects of smoking through NHS treatment and care than we receive through Tobacco tax revenues. Its another myth that the tobacco companies are happy to circulate !

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans Sat 31-Aug-13 10:44:55

Exactly Minipie - or I'M SMELLY. Something to make smoking just look stupid.

ginmakesitallok Sat 31-Aug-13 10:01:25

Minipie - why is it not good that kids are choosing e-cigarettes over tobacco ones? (though there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are being taken up by children, studies show that the vast majority of e-cig users are ex smokers). If children who would otherwise have started smoking are instead choosing e-cigs then surely that is a good thing??

TwoStepsBeyond Fri 30-Aug-13 11:42:23

I have signed the petition, but I do think that if plain packaging is brought in then the brands will make money from selling covers for packs or lighters etc, I'm sure they'll find a way round it.

Sadly children will try to grow up more quickly than we would like them to and if they see smoking as something that adults do, it will appeal.

As a kid, I hated the fact that my parents smoked, I worried about them getting ill, I hated the smell of it round the house, I would slam doors and put towels against my bedroom door to keep the smell out.

Didn't stop me trying it when I was out with my friends, and of course the brand we bought was the one our mums smoked! Luckily it was only ever an occasional thing and I never became addicted, but I know how easy it is to forget all your education and principals for a bit of a laugh with your mates.

I don't know what the answer is but I know that I would be mortified if any of my DCs started smoking and anything that may help to prevent it must be worth a try.

Jemima72 Fri 30-Aug-13 10:38:14

Absolutely agree with this campaign- it's totally wrong that in 2013 companies can promote and sell a product designed to hook in young people, get them addicted, and then will kill HALF of its long term users. There's nothing else out there quite like it. The tobacco companies haven't got one ounce of moral fibre within them and they are after our kids. Standard packs would be another way to reduce the appeal- they aren't a magic cure but are a really important next step and we need to put our kids first and not the profits of five global companies who's strategy around the whole world is geared up to get children and young people to start smoking and replace their customers they kill off (many in middle age) or who manage to quit before it's too late. Rant over. Please support this campaign!

minipie Fri 30-Aug-13 10:37:44

Empress that's genius. Perhaps packets should have WEAK MINDED and MY BREATH STINKS written on them.

Merci, that's not good, though at least they are tar free.

mercibucket Fri 30-Aug-13 08:44:30

the problem is moving on

now i see kids smoking electronic cigarettes, the water vapour ones, those are cool nowadays. more flavours, different strengths, and no clue if they are dangerous or not.

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans Thu 29-Aug-13 20:01:26

I do think 'stupid' is part of the key to it though.

If kids see smoking as dangerous and rebellious then lots of them are going to keep doing it. I don't think plain packets as the way to go - I'd go for embarrassing ones. What kid's going to want to be seen with a box with SILLY SMOKER written on it?

Roseanna05 Thu 29-Aug-13 19:24:09

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goldensunshine Thu 29-Aug-13 17:47:33

The government only cares about policies that will cause an effect during their term. This is too long term for them to gain a positive effect through votes. So frustrating. As a cancer survivor, passive smoker thanks to the neighbours and mother I am so frustrated with this. angry angry

minipie Thu 29-Aug-13 16:49:18

longdistance your post reminded me of why I never smoked (bar the usual first one or two tries) - I was heavily influenced by my mum's oft stated opinion that it was 'incredibly stupid' to smoke.

I would not have been influenced by her banning smoking, or threatening to cut off my allowance - in fact these approaches might have encouraged me - but I really didn't want to be 'stupid'. will be taking a similar approach with my own DD (assuming she has a similar personality).

AcaciaRoad Thu 29-Aug-13 15:04:05

This government's policies make no sense if you try to see how they would benefit health, education, the well-being of the population - or use any similar yardsticks.

But if you judge each policy decision using the question "does this make money / provide business opportunities" then they make much more sense.

What would be the effect of plain packaging?

1. Plain packets will cause several commercial companies to lose money.
2. Plain packets will lessen suffering in the population overall (as fewer children will take up smoking)

This government cares more about point 1 than point 2.

Once you understand this, their policies make sense. They were never going to go for this, sadly.

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.

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

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.

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

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SuzySheepSmellsNice Wed 28-Aug-13 19:30:36

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

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 -

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:

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.

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