Could Plain Packaging for E-Cigarettes Reduce Teen Vaping?
Just like plain packaging is known to reduce the appeal of cigarettes, could standardized vape packaging be used to make vaping products less attractive to teenagers. Two smoking cessation and THR experts weigh in.
The study, “Impact of E-liquid Packaging on Vaping Product Perceptions Among Youth in England, Canada, and the United States: A Randomized Online Experiment,” surveyed 13,801 youth from England, Canada, and the United States, aiming to understand the impact of different vape packaging on their perceived health risks and interest in vaping.
The results revealed that standardized (white or olive) packaging compared to branded packaging, was associated with reduced interest in trying vapes and higher misconceptions about their harm. The compiled responses conformed that youths exposed to standardized packaging were more likely to inaccurately perceive vaping as equally or more harmful than smoking. While the nicotine levels displayed on the packs did not seem to influence the youths’ interest in trying or their perceptions of harm.
This research concluded that branding on e-liquid packaging attracts young people and might encourage vaping, even among those who haven’t smoked before. The findings suggest that removing branding elements on e-liquid packaging might decrease youth interest in vaping. However it does seem to lead to misunderstandings about the comparative risks between vaping and smoking, therefore the potential of standardized packaging in discouraging vaping for harm reduction should be considered cautiously.
Similarly, a study titled, “Association of Fully Branded and Standardized e-Cigarette Packaging With Interest in Trying Products Among Youths and Adults in Great Britain,” included 2,469 youths aged 11-18 and 12,046 adults aged 18 or older, across Britain.
Examining the impact of fully branded and standardized e-cigarette packaging on the interest in trying these products among different age groups, like the previous paper, the current study also found that youths showed less interest in trying vapes in plain olive-coloured packaging compared to fully branded packaging. While among adults, no significant differences were observed, and standardized packaging did not seem to affect their interest in the products.
These findings are promising as they suggest that standardized packaging of e-cigarettes may decrease the appeal of these products among young individuals without reducing interest among adults.
Why focus on safer alternatives?
Canadian lawyer and public health expert, Professor David Sweanor highlighted that ultimately the focus should not be on making safer nicotine alternative products less attractive, but on cigarettes and reducing smoking rates.
“I originally advocated plain packaging for cigarettes before a federal legislative committee here in Canada in 1988. The reason was to break the link between decades of advertising and the packaging, with the goal being to lessen the impact of past advertising in the continued marketing of a lethal product.
Cigarettes are still our leading cause of preventable death, and dealing with this problem should be a public health emergency and treated accordingly. Substitution of low-risk alternatives is evidently the greatest tool we have ever had for reducing cigarette smoking.
“Measures that make vaping less appealing and further misleads the public by treating such products as somehow equivalent to lethal cigarettes is public health malpractice.” Prof. David Sweanor
Measures that make vaping less appealing and further misleads the public by treating such products as somehow equivalent to lethal cigarettes is public health malpractice.
Claims that such measures are somehow protecting teenagers lacks evidence, while clearly protecting cigarettes and perpetuating an epidemic. The evidence is that vaping has virtually eliminated smoking by young people and teen vaping, never the problem prohibitionist claimed, has fallen significantly.
The focus of policy should be to intervene to reduce huge and immediate risks, and that means reducing cigarette smoking among adults. Packaging that makes vaping a better consumer offer than cigarettes should be part of that.”
Appealing vape packaging is leading to reduced smoking rates
“A better solution is make packaging simple, without bright colours or images with youth appeal. Flavour names that specifically appeal to young people such as ‘dragon vomit’ should be banned and only simple flavour descriptors such as caramel or blueberry used.”Dr. Colin Mendelsohn
Similarly, Australian smoking cessation expert, Dr. Colin Mendelsohn told Vaping Post that plain packaging for vapes could undermine some of the smoking cessation success achieved by the products.
“Pharmaceutical-like plain packaging has been proposed in Australia to reduce the appeal of vapes to young people. The danger is that this may reduce their uptake as a safer alternative to smoking and may increase smoking in young people and adults. Plain packaging is appropriate for deadly cigarettes. However, for vapes, it sends a message that is disproportionate to the small harms of the product.”Mendelsohn went on to refer to the aforementioned study. “In young people, there is some evidence that plain packaging may reduce interest in vaping (Simonavicius; Taylor). However, vaping is diverting young people away from smoking and is helping some young smokers quit. Plain packaging may undermine that progress and may increase smoking rates as vaping and smoking are substitutes.
It may also discourage adult smokers from switching. Harm perceptions about vaping are already exaggerated. Most people incorrectly think vaping is at least as harmful as smoking or more harmful. Plain packaging may deter some smokers from switching to the far safer alternative.”
He added that perhaps there could be a sensible middle ground. “A better solution is make packaging simple, without bright colours or images with youth appeal. Flavour names that specifically appeal to young people such as ‘dragon vomit’ should be banned and only simple flavour descriptors such as caramel or blueberry used.”