‘PACKING MATTERS’: Studies say packaging can reduce tobacco industry marketing influence among Filipino consumers

The Institute for Global Tobacco Control (IGTC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Tobacco Control and Governance Program at the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) released two unique studies based on Filipino consumer perceptions that collectively support the implementation of plain and standardized packaging as a tactic to heighten consumer awareness of the risks of tobacco-caused death and disease, and reduce the marketing appeal of tobacco product packaging by eliminating its potential as a form of advertising and promotion.

IGTC’s published paper, “Shared perceptions of flavoured cigarette pack design among young adult smokers in Mexico and the Philippines,” reports on focus group discussions conducted with young adults who smoke in these countries, wherein participants reported their perceptions of and attraction to various cigarette pack designs.

The study revealed that by appealing to the lifestyles and attitudinal aspirations of young adults, tobacco companies can make cigarette packs more appealing to young adults and encourage uptake and use in low- and middle-income countries such as the Philippines and Mexico.

In both countries, participants easily identified and were attracted to attributes such as vibrant pack colours and flavours, with the majority interpreting themselves to be the youthful, primary audience for flavoured products.

Participants from the Philippines shared that imagery of a flavour capsule indicated a “really cool” interactive feature, described colours on the packs as “attractive,” looking “like candy,” and imbued with “rainbow-ish appeal.”

They also stated that flavoured and coloured products are “more appealing to the younger ones [consumers].”

ASOG’s study, “Opportunities for Plain Packaging of Tobacco Products in the Philippines: Results of a Nationwide Online Survey,” involved a nationwide survey of 2,000 adults aged 18 to 65 years old who reside in the Philippines, to examine the perception of those who smoke on the potential impact and effectiveness of plain packaging, health warning labels, and reduced misleading information on tobacco packs on smoking-related and quitting-related behaviours.

The results showed that, overall, Filipinos believe that plain packaging will make graphic health warnings on tobacco products more effective, reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, and limit the use of tobacco brand variants as a promotional tool.

This could reduce youth experimentation, promote quitting among people who smoke, and prevent branding and glamorization—especially that which is targeted towards youth.

“Research shows smoking declines when policies on plain packaging, combined with large graphic health warnings, are implemented,” explained Jennifer Brown, an Assistant Scientist from IGTC and co-author of the paper.

“Regulating packaging is a powerful tool to discourage new users, and more than two dozen countries, including Thailand and Singapore, have adopted plain and standardized packaging policies.”

“Plain packaging will help the Philippines comply with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),” added Gianna Gayle Amul, a research fellow from ASOG and principal author of the research.

“Without such a provision, tobacco packaging remains a key marketing tool used by the tobacco industry to attract potential consumers, encourage brand identification, and normalize the use of a lethal but legal product.”

At 14.4 million people, Philippines is among the low- and middle-income countries with the highest number of adults who smoke, including 33% of adult men.[1] Among youth, 11% reportedly smoke tobacco and 14% use e-cigarettes.[2]

Noting the growing global market for e-cigarettes, ASOG also recommends a broad enabling provision for plain packaging that covers all tobacco and nicotine products available and sold in the Philippines, including e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

Findings from the two studies provide compelling evidence that supports the recommendation of the WHO FCTC (to which the Philippines is a Party) to adopt plain packaging. Doing so will contribute to protecting younger generations and all Filipinos from continued tobacco-caused death and disease.

Established in 1998, the Institute for Global Tobacco Control (publichealth.jhu.edu/igtc) has informed tobacco control action in countries around the world for 25 years.

As part of the Department of Health, Behaviour and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the institute is a partner in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and a Collaborating Centre of the World Health Organization, guided by a mission to prevent death and disease from tobacco products by generating evidence to support tobacco interventions.

Established in 1996, the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) is the largest private university-based school of government and public policy in the Philippines delivering cutting-edge policy research and promoting good governance reforms.

Having built a reputation for its work on sustainable development and democratic institution-building, ASOG has more recently expanded its work in the areas of public finance and public health.

The School has received a grant from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) as part of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and has received research funding from the Philippines’ Department of Health.

[1] Source: https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/2021-gats-fact-sheet-philippines

[2] Source: https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/2019-gyts-fact-sheet-philippines