As designers, we commonly are interested in gaining the attention of consumers, tempting them to buy products or become interested in services. It is this same notion that makes the introduction of the ‘Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011’ so interesting, as here the designers had the intention to do the opposite of what their job usually entails, to make a product so unappealing that nobody wants to use it.
There is no doubt Tobacco is one of the largest health issues the world faces, with more than 900 million plus people in Australia alone dying a tobacco-related premature death (NSW Health 2012, p.4). This epidemic has caused a mass change in how governments, like Australia’s, attempt to take the tobacco challenge. On the 1st of December 2012, the Plain Packaged Cigarette packs (figure 1) were rolled out with a clear objective to improve public health through a top-down initiative that was designed to be unappealing as possible. Gone were the “logos and distinctive coloured cigarette packaging” (ABC 2018), instead of a “drab olive packets that look more like military or prison issue” (ABC 2018), with the name printed in standardised, small print.
Did it work?
14 individual studies in the British Medical Journal found after the release of the Plain Packaging, there was a 7% increase to 27% of smokers considering attempting to quit smoking (Wakefield 2015), a 78% increase in calls to Quitline within NSW (Department of Health 2016, p.30), and from a design perspective, the new unappealing packaging was changing smokers outlook on cigarettes. No longer did smoking seem as ‘cool’ as it had in the past, with the enlarged, graphic images resulting in people being more likely to conceal their packs from view (Wakefield 2015). The dark olive colour as it was “seen to be the least appealing, had lower quality cigarettes and the highest perceived harm to health” (GfK bluemoon 2011, p.142) and the reduction in brand appeal and brand imagery also caused younger people to reconsider smoking due to the obvious health implications and social perspective on smoking.
Overall, this not only reflects a brilliant strategy that helped combat tobacco usage through helping bring the negative health affects to the user’s eyes, but also showed the influence of design on the mindset and decisions of consumers. The Plain Packaging Act is now something that’s followed across the world, with Hungary, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Norway and Britain implementing similar constraints. In 2018, the World Trade Organisation declared Australia’s Plain Packaging law “contributed to improving public health by reducing use of and exposure to tobacco products” and “rejected claims that alternative measures would be equally effective” (ABC 2018). This ruling will hopefully now lead to a role out of a similar approach to Tobacco packaging around the world, particularly in places like Indonesia who said they’d “examine its options” (ABC 2018) after originally opposing this ruling.
Figure 1: showing the change from regular cigarette packs to Plain Packaging (Hammond 2016).
ABC 2018, Australia wins landmark World Trade Organisation ruling on tobacco plain packaging laws, Sydney, viewed January 9th 2019, < https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-29/australia-wins-landmark-wto-ruling-on-tobacco-plain-packaging/9921972>
Cancer Council Victoria 2016, Further initiatives to reduce tobacco-related disparities in Australia, Victoria, viewed January 8th 2019, < http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-9-disadvantage/9-10-further-initiatives-to-reduce-tobacco-related>
GfK bluemoon 2011, Market Research to Determine Effective Plain Packaging of Tobacco Products, viewed January 9th 2019, < http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/C5E90158113E0DC6CA257D120011725C/$File/Market%20Research%20-%20Plain%20Packaging%20of%20Tobacco%20Products.pdf>
Hammond, D 2016, Nothing Plain about Plain Packaging, LASLC News, viewed January 9th 2019, <http://www.lungcancernews.org/2017/02/01/nothing-plain-about-plain-packaging/>
New South Wales Health 2012, NSW Tobacco Strategy 2012-2017, Canberra, viewed January 9th 2019, < https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/tobacco/Publications/nsw-tobacco-strategy-2012.pdf>
The Department of Health 2016, Post-Implementation ReviewTobacco Plain Packaging, Canberra, viewed January 9th 2019, <http://ris.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/posts/2016/02/Tobacco-Plain-Packaging-PIR.pdf>
The Department of Health 2018, Introduction of tobacco plain packaging in Australia, Canberra, viewed January 8th 2019, < http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-plain>
The Department of Health 2018, Evaluation of tobacco plain packaging in Australia, Canberra, viewed January 8th 2019, < http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-plain-packaging-evaluation>
Wakefield, Melanie 2015, Australia’s plain packaging laws successful, studies show, ABC News, Sydney, viewed January 9th 2019, < https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-19/australias-plain-packaging-laws-are-a-success,-studies-show/6331736>