Background Australian tobacco companies have introduced evocative variant names that could re-create the aspirational connotations plain packaging aims to remove. To inform future regulation, we explored how brand descriptors affected smokers’ responses to plain packs featuring different variant name combinations.
Methods An online survey of 254 daily smokers or social smokers aged between 18 and 34 used a within-subjects best-worst experiment to estimate the relative effects of variant names. A 2×4×4×4 design contained four attributes: quality (premium or none), taste (smooth, fine, rich or none) connotation (classic, midnight, infinite or none) and colour (red, blue, white or none). In a between-subjects component, respondents evaluated one of two alternative packs according to its perceived harm and ease of quitting.
Results The most important variant attribute was connotation, followed by taste, colour and quality; within these attributes, the most attractive descriptors were ‘classic’ and ‘smooth’. We identified four distinct segments that differed significantly in their sociodemographic attributes and variant preferences, although not in their perceptions of the harm or quitting ease associated with two different variants.
Conclusions Some descriptors significantly enhance the appeal of tobacco products among different groups of smokers and may undermine plain packaging's dissuasive intent. Policymakers should explicitly regulate variant names to avoid the ‘poetry on a package’ evident in Australia. Options include disallowing new descriptors, limiting the number of descriptors permitted or banning descriptors altogether.
- Packaging and Labelling
- Public policy
- Tobacco industry
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