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Standardised (plain) cigarette packaging increases attention to both text-based and graphical health warnings: experimental evidence

Shankleman, M., Sykes, C., Mandeville, K. L. , Di Costa, S. & Yarrow, K. (2015). Standardised (plain) cigarette packaging increases attention to both text-based and graphical health warnings: experimental evidence. Public Health, 129(1), pp. 37-42. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2014.10.019


To investigate whether standardised cigarette packaging increases the time spent looking at health warnings, regardless of the format of those warnings.

Study design
A factorial (two pack styles x three warning types) within-subject experiment, with participants randomised to different orders of conditions, completed at a university in London, UK.

Mock-ups of cigarette packets were presented to participants with their branded portion in either standardised (plain) or manufacturer-designed (branded) format. Health warnings were present on all packets, representing all three types currently in use in the UK: black & white text, colour text, or colour images with accompanying text. Gaze position was recorded using a specialised eye tracker, providing the main outcome measure, which was the mean proportion of a five-second viewing period spent gazing at the warning-label region of the packet.

An opportunity sample of 30 (six male, mean age = 23) young adults met the following inclusion criteria: 1) not currently a smoker; 2) <100 lifetime cigarettes smoked; 3) gaze position successfully tracked for > 50% viewing time. These participants spent a greater proportion of the available time gazing at the warning-label region when the branded section of the pack was standardised (following current Australian guidelines) rather than containing the manufacturer's preferred design (mean difference in proportions = 0.078, 95% confidence interval 0.049 to 0.106, p < 0.001). There was no evidence that this effect varied based on the type of warning label (black & white text vs. colour text vs. colour image & text; interaction p = 0.295).

During incidental viewing of cigarette packets, young adult never-smokers are likely to spend more time looking at health warnings if manufacturers are compelled to use standardised packaging, regardless of the warning design.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Cigarettes, Standardised packaging, Health warnings, Eye tracking, Attention, UK
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0.

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