PHRC Phase 2 (2011-2019) projects – Projects related to smoking

Plain tobacco packaging : A systematic review

Lead investigator

Gerard Hastings, Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling

This systematic review outlines findings from 37 studies that provide evidence of the impacts of plain tobacco packaging. The review was conducted following the publication of the March 2011 White Paper Healthy Lives: Healthy People which set out a renewed Tobacco Control Plan for England. One of the key actions identified in the plan was to consult on possible options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging, including plain packaging. This systematic review was commissioned to provide a comprehensive overview of evidence on the impact of plain packaging in order to inform a public consultation on the issue.

The report begins with an introduction that briefly describes how tobacco marketing and packaging have been regulated to date, and outlines the origins of plain packaging as a potential policy measure. A contextual section discusses how tobacco packaging has evolved and its multifunctional role in promoting tobacco products.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) proposes that plain packaging would have three benefits: it would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, it would increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages, and it would reduce the use of design techniques that may mislead consumers about the harmfulness of tobacco products. The review aimed to examine all available current evidence on the effects of plain packaging in these three areas. It employed systematic review methodology and examined studies from 1980 to the present day. The review focused on primary research but did not put limits on study design. Some systematic reviews include only randomised controlled trials of interventions, but we were aware that this type of evidence cannot exist for plain packaging as plain packaging has not yet been implemented in any jurisdiction. The review therefore looked at all feasible study designs. We searched 21 electronic databases from the fields of health, public health, social science and social care. For the databases, a comprehensive search strategy was developed and tested. We also searched websites, Google Scholar and the tobacco industry’s legacy library. We carried out citation chasing and contacted experts to find further studies. Studies were managed by EPPI-Reviewer 4.0, the EPPI-Centre’s online review software.

A total of 4,518 citations were identified following initial searching, and after screening and quality appraisal 37 studies were included. Data were extracted from each of these to inform a narrative synthesis organised around five main headings: appeal of cigarettes, packs and brands; salience of health warnings; perceptions of harm; smoking-related attitudes and behaviour; and barriers and facilitators to the introduction of plain packaging.

Duration: 02/05/2011 - 10/02/2012