Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Measuring the effect of cigarette plain packaging on transaction times and selection errors in a simulation experiment
  1. Owen B J Carter,
  2. Brennen W Mills,
  3. Tina Phan,
  4. Jonathon R Bremner
  1. Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control, School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Owen B J Carter, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, WA 6845, Australia; o.carter{at}


Introduction Australia has introduced legislation to force all cigarette packaging to be generic from 2012 onwards. The tobacco retail industry estimates this will result in transaction times increasing by 15–45 s per pack and is spending at least $A10 million of tobacco industry funds on an advertising campaigns claiming that the increased time and errors associated with plain packaging will ultimately cost small businesses $A461 million per annum and endanger 15 000 jobs. We undertook an objective experiment to test these claims.

Methodology Participants (n=52) were randomly assigned to stand in front of a display of either 50 plain or coloured cigarette packets and then were read a randomly ordered list of cigarette brands. The time participants took to locate each packet was recorded and all selection errors were noted. After 50 ‘transactions’, participants repeated the entire experiment with the alternative plain/coloured packs. Afterwards, participants were asked in an open-ended manner whether plain or coloured packaging was easier to locate and why.

Results The average transaction was significantly quicker for plain compared with coloured packs (2.92 vs 3.17 s; p=0.040). One or more mistakes were made by 40.4% of participants when selecting coloured packaging compared with only 17.3% for plain packaging (p=0.011). Qualitative results suggested that the colours and inconsistent location of brand names often served to distract when participants scanned for brands.

Conclusion Rather than plain packaging requiring an additional 45 s per transaction, our results suggest that it will, if anything, modestly decrease transaction times and selection errors.

  • Packaging and labelling
  • nicotine products
  • young adults
  • advertising and promotion
  • denormalisation
  • media
  • packaging and labelling
  • social marketing
  • smoking-caused disease
  • advertising and promotion

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Curtin University Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement All data will be gladly and openly provided by request to the main author.