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Prospective longitudinal study of tobacco company adaptation to standardised packaging in the UK: identifying circumventions and closing loopholes
  1. Karen A Evans-Reeves,
  2. Rosemary Hiscock,
  3. Kathrin Lauber,
  4. Anna B Gilmore
  1. Tobacco Control Research Group, Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rosemary Hiscock; r.hiscock{at}bath.ac.uk

Abstract

Objectives UK standardised packaging legislation was introduced alongside pack size and product descriptor restrictions of the European Union Tobacco Products Directive to end tobacco marketing and misinformation via the pack. This paper aims to assess compliance with the restrictions and identify attempts to continue to market tobacco products and perpetuate misperceptions of harm post legislation.

Design, setting and intervention A prospective study of the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products to the UK.

Participants and outcomes We analysed commercial sales data to assess whether the legally required changes in pack branding, size and name were implemented. To explore any adaptations to products and packaging we analysed sales data, monthly pack purchases of factory-made (FM) cigarettes and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco, tobacco advertisements from retail trade magazines and articles on tobacco from commercial literature (retail trade, market analyst and tobacco company publications).

Results One month after full implementation of the UK and European Union policies, 97% FM and 98% RYO was sold in compliant packaging. Nevertheless, tobacco companies made adaptations to tobacco products which enabled continued brand differentiation after the legislation came into force. For example, flavour names previously associated with low tar were systematically changed to colour names arguably facilitating continued misperceptions about the relative harms of products. Tobacco companies used the 1-year sell-through to their advantage by communicating brand name changes and providing financial incentives for retailers to buy large volumes of branded packs. In addition, tobacco companies continued to market their products to retailers and customers by innovating exemptions to the legislation, namely, filters, packaging edges, seals, multipack outers, RYO accessories, cigars and pipe tobacco.

Conclusions Tobacco companies adapted to packaging restrictions by innovating their tobacco products and marketing activities. These findings should enable policy makers globally to close loopholes and increase the potential efficacy of standardised packaging policies.

  • tobacco
  • tobacco industry
  • standardised packaging
  • plain packs

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

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Footnotes

  • Contributors ABG designed the study with contributions from KAE-R and RH. KAE-R led the writing of the paper and designed, conducted and analysed the pack purchase element of the study. RH analysed the Nielsen data in addition to downloading and analysing the commercial literature. KL collated the retail literature advertisements, involving visits to the British Library and analysed the data. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by Cancer Research UK grant number C27260/A23168. The authors are members of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies, a UK Clinical Research Collaboration Public Health Research Centre of Excellence whose work issupported by funding from the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, and the National Institute for HealthResearch under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (MR/K023195/1).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available.

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