Background: The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control calls for the elimination of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. To test whether tobacco packaging functions as advertising by communicating attractive and distinctive brand attributes, we explored how young adult smokers and non-smokers interpreted familiar and unfamiliar tobacco brands.
Methods: We conducted an on-line survey of 1035 young adult smokers and non-smokers aged 18-30. Participants evaluated eight tobacco brands using ten attributes based on brand personality scales. We used factor analysis and ANOVA to examine patterns in brand-attribute associations.
Results: Young adults distinguished between brands on the basis of their packaging alone, associated each brand with specific attributes, and were equally able to interpret familiar and unfamiliar brands. Contrary to our expectations, non-smokers made more favourable brand-attribute associations than smokers, but both groups described Basic, a near generic brand, as 'plain' or 'budget'. There were no significant gender or ethnicity differences.
Conclusions: Tobacco packaging uses logos, colours and imagery to create desirable connotations that promote and reinforce smoking. By functioning in the same way as advertising, on-pack branding breaches Article 13 of the FCTC and refutes tobacco companies' claims that pack livery serves only as an indentifying device that simplifies smokers' decision-making. Given this evidence, signatories should see plain packaging policies as a priority consistent with their FCTC obligations to eliminate all tobacco advertising and promotion.