The claim by New Zealand's main tobacco companies that plain packaging will not reduce the prevalence of smoking has been dismissed by a researcher who tested the concept.

The Government has agreed in principle to impose plain packaging - with large health warnings - on the tobacco industry, subject to a public consultation process.

It is part of the plan to make New Zealand virtually smokefree by 2025 and would follow the introduction of plain packaging law in Australia, the first country to adopt this tobacco rule.

British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco have all said plain packaging won't work.


"We do not expect plain packaging to reduce smoking rates," said BAT New Zealand's head of corporate and regulatory affairs, Susan Jones. "Plain packaging is about the fact there's no proof this will work."

Imperial Tobacco has said there is no evidence plain packaging will help stamp out smoking.

Its international parent company said this month, in response to the British Government's intention to consult on tobacco packaging, "Tobacco packaging has never been identified as a reason why people start to smoke or continue to smoke."

But Otago University marketing expert Professor Janet Hoek yesterday questioned what evidence the tobacco industry was relying on. She pointed to a number of papers that she and New Zealand colleagues had had published in peer-reviewed scientific journals - as well as overseas research - which showed the industry's claims and opinions were wrong.

"We've got very strong research evidence that plain packaging makes smoking very unattractive to young people and young adults."

One study Professor Hoek cited involved group discussions and in-depth interviews with 86 young adults, both smokers and non-smokers, about tobacco packaging including their views about sample plain white packets with expanded health warnings which they were shown.

"That just doesn't look trendy at all ... it's just budget ... it's like, lame," one participant said of the plain packaging, according to a paper published in the journal Qualitative Health Research last December.

Other comments included:

"There's just nothing attractive with it. There isn't a cool colour, there isn't any kind of marking that would grab you."

"For someone who's starting smoking ... it'd be a lot harder to identify with a brand if it's just colourless."

"It looks so boring and ... you sort of see the cigarette for what it is ... They just look kind of very plain and filthy sorts of things."

The paper concludes that, given tobacco companies' huge efforts to develop brands that appealed to young adults, "it is logical to assume that decreasing these appeals would, over time, reduce the behaviours they stimulate and support".