Smokers could soon be subjected to one more spur directing them to abandon their lethal habit. Researchers in Scotland have devised talking cigarette packets that issue a message reminding users of the dangers of tobacco use, just in case they’ve been resistant to the printed warnings that were introduced in 1971 and the gory pictures which have decorated these products since 2008.
Testing of prototypes was conducted upon women between the ages of 16 and 24, one of the demographics which continues to have a high rate of smoking. The effort has proven successful with young women and the researchers from Stirling University’s Centre for Tobacco Control Research will now widen their efforts to include other age groups and that other gender.
Packs released a message with either a phone number for advice on quitting smoking or a warning that smoking causes fertility to dwindle. The message played when the lid of the packet opened, using a device similar to that found in some greetings cards.
Volunteers found the message about fertility to be “off-putting” and “hard-hitting,” with 16 and 17 year-olds particularly affected. Some said they’d consider cutting down or ceasing smoking because it would be so annoying. One particular woman declared, “Some people would maybe say I need to pack that in because the packets are doing my nut in.” Some volunteers were unconvinced of the talking packets’ impact, believing they’d get used to them, with one saying that smokers ignored warnings.
The researchers were inspired by the endeavours of tobacco companies which have attempted to make packs more attractive in the face of the warnings they must bear. One researcher, Crawford Moodie, affirmed that manufacturers already used sounds to increase their products’ appeal, with packets that produce a satisfying click when shut. Moodie said that it was possible that packs might one day play music or talk. He was actually pleased that people found his project’s packs to be annoying, because it was a very good way to capture attention and create interest.
Changes to packaging would require legislation. The Scottish government supports the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes, but is awaiting the decision of the UK government before proceeding.
Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health – Scotland, explained that the tobacco industry devotes considerable creative expertise to the marketing of cancer sticks, which was usually aimed at young people. She welcomed the creativity of this undertaking.
Alison Cox, the head of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, said that tobacco companies were known to target younger people and women with colourful, stylish packs to offset the impact of graphic warnings which can disguise how harmful fags (that’s British English, OK?) truly are. This organisation funded the study at Stirling University to examine how the tobacco industry’s marketing tools that entice 200,000 British children to begin smoking every year could be employed to help smokers to quit instead.
Simon Clark, director of the pro-smoking lobby group, Forest, countered that the measure might have the opposite effect to that intended, as nothing was more attractive to a child than a pre-recorded message, which was like a talking birthday card. More gruesome messages were, he said, actually more alluring, as evidenced by the popularity of horror films with teenagers.
Smoking in public places is prohibited in all of the United Kingdom, which includes restaurants and bars. Heart attack rates and admissions to hospitals for asthma have all fallen since. In April, 2013, larger retailers were forbidden from displaying cigarettes and other tobacco products in their shops. Vending machines that dispense ciggies are also not permitted.
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”