Over the last few years smokers and vapers alike will no doubt have noticed the ever-changing landscape of tobacco products, with tighter and tighter restrictions coming into effect and dramatic changes being made both aesthetically and physically.
The 2020 menthol ban, abolishment of ten-packs of cigarettes and minimum tobacco pouch size raising to 30mg, and the unavoidable introduction of the mouldy-green makeover of all tobacco packaging, to name but a few.
The reasons behind these decisions have always been focussed on reducing appeal to existing smokers, raising awareness of the risks of the habit, and reducing uptake particularly amongst the younger demographics. All in support of the effort by the UK Government to reduce the number of smokers in the UK to 5% or less of the population by 2030.
Despite smoking rates being lower in 2021 than ever before, the problem still persists with around 6 million smokers still active in the UK. Which lends credence the opinion of many that aesthetic changes and even steeper taxation will do little to deter those committed to the habit, which we all recognise as a powerful addiction to nicotine, a famously difficult addiction to overcome.
With that said, the collective results of a series of studies carried out from 2015 to 2019 have driven Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy to propose an update to the current legislation on tobacco products, which has rapidly gained traction both in parliament and beyond.
The Proposed Changes
The headlines circulating at the behest of the proposal have zoomed-in on one aspect in particular: the printing of “smoking kills” warnings not just on the packets where we are used to seeing them, but on the individual cigarettes themselves. The hope is that by making the waring so obvious and unavoidable, that it will deter even more smokers than have already been dissuaded by the changes to date, not least the huge and graphic pictorial warnings emblazoned on every pack.
In addition however, the new policy would see the age of sale for tobacco products raise from 18 to 21. A move that would align the UK with the likes of America. Whether or not this would be extended to vaping products remains to be seen, but given classification of vaping products by lawmakers as an extension of the tobacco portfolio, it seems likely that even if not immediately, eventually this will impact the vaping community too.
A more aggressive aspect of the policy would also empower government to impose a levy on the profits made by tobacco companies themselves, drawing those funds from their coffers and investing it directly into stop smoking services throughout the country.
More specific to the vaping community, the new legislation includes amendments that would prevent vaping manufacturers and retailers from creating products that appeal to children, including sweet flavours and cartoonish designs. As well as rules that prevent the giving away of e-cigarettes for free as sample products.
However, this does not depart much from the TPD regulations LiQuid and businesses like us have been following for a number of years, so vapers shouldn’t worry about this too much!
Will Additional Warnings Make A Difference?
There will undoubtedly be many people out there reading these headlines who will feel like these changes are only skin-deep and in the long-run will likely not do much to put them off smoking, however there is a surprisingly conclusive body of evidence that suggests the opposite!
A number of studies have been carried out since 2014 on both young people and adults which have registered the impact of including additional warnings on cigarette sticks themselves, with the vast majority finding the addition to be quite an effective deterrent.
In 2014, 1205 11-16 year olds were presented with a picture of a cigarette carrying a stark warning on the paper. 71% of them said the blatancy of the warning would put them off starting smoking altogether, while 51% felt that it would encourage them to stop if they had already begun.
In 2015 and then again in 2016, two more trials had similar results. Both trials involved the participants (16-24 year old smokers/non-smokers, and 16-34 year old smokers/non-smokers respectively) being shown comparative images of a normal cigarette, one with a warning printed on it, and another coloured completely green (and not a particularly nice green at that!).
In both studies the results unanimously revealed that the latter examples which differed from the norm, greatly reduced the appeal of smoking in general, making them seem more harmful.
The study cited as the biggest reason for the proposed changes targeted twenty focus groups with ages ranging from 16 year olds to those over 50. Across all demographics the results were unified; the addition of the waring on a cigarette itself was perceived to impact themselves, others around them, or both.
The participants felt that having it on the cigarette itself would prolong their exposure to the message, making it harder to put to the back of their mind and adding an additional sense of taboo to the act of smoking. Being found to create a feeling of embarrassment or shame in social situations, adding a constant feeling of concern, fear or depression among those witnessing the person consume a product literally marked as lethal.
With that said however, each demographic also reported at least once that there was a risk of desensitisation to such warnings if over-exposed in such a way as may be caused by the proposed legislation.
Support For The Proposition is Not Unanimous
Perhaps obviously, the majority of MPs, healthcare professionals and anti-smoking lobbyists are in strong support of the proposition, including shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and shadow justice secretary Alex Cunningham.
Deborah Arnott of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was another influential backer of the changes, saying “Warnings on cigarettes were suggested over 40 years ago by then health minister George Young. The tobacco companies, with breath-taking hypocrisy, protested that the ink would be toxic to smokers. The truth is cigarette stick warnings are toxic to big tobacco and this is an idea whose time has come.”
Mary Kelly Foy herself has said in defence of her proposition “We know that cigarettes are cancer sticks and kill half the people who use them. So I hope that health warnings on cigarettes would deter people from being tempted to smoke in the first place, especially young people…if they are putting that in their mouth and seeing that message on cigarettes every time they smoke, I hope it would have the desired effect”.
Despite strong support however, there are organisations that would oppose the introduction of the changes. Simon Clark, head of pro-smoking group, Forest, has openly criticised the approach:
“Everyone is aware of the health risks of smoking. There are huge, impossible-to-miss health warnings on every pack of cigarettes, including grotesque images of smoking-related diseases. Tobacco is sold in standardised packing and banned from display in shops. Enough is enough. If adults still choose to smoke that is a matter for them, not the government.”
Where would you stand on this debate? Would additional warnings matter to you if you were a smoker, or would they just be another thing you keep out of sight and out of mind? These are just a few of the questions being asked by many as the government’s plans for a smoke free future step up the intensity and begin to impose ever-more drastic changes to what for many is a staple part of everyday life.