public health

Australia Is Figuring Out How to Get People to Quit Smoking

Photo: Andreas Lindlahr/Getty Images

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide, and thus a gigantic public-health issue, in developed and (especially) developing countries alike. According to the World Health Organization, smoking kills about half of those who do it, claiming around 6 million lives a year.

Which brings us to some good news from Down Under. As Aamna Mohdin reports at Quartz, Australia’s latest innovation in bringing down smoking is yielding some solid results.

Five years ago, the nation became the first to force tobacco manufacturers to use standardized, unbranded packaging with a centerpiece of disgusting health warnings. According to a new study in Addictive Behaviors Reports, it’s working, as indicated by surveys of 178 smokers just before and seven months after branded packaging was kiboshed.

The branding, the team of Australian National University and University of Queensland psychologists reason, was one thing keeping people smoking even though public-health policies had pushed for the “denormalisation” of breathing toxic chemicals into your lungs. (As in: making smokers no longer seem cool, but gross.)

Like so much else these days, it’s a matter of identity politics.

Branding allowed users “to identify not (just) as a smoker, but as a smoker of a particular brand,” the authors write. “Doing so deflects the negative connotations of the superordinate category (dirty etc.) and may help to define the self with more positive content (e.g. ‘Winboro Woman’ can be sassy, independent and minty fresh).” After the ban, the surveyed smokers were less likely to identify with a given brand and more likely to try to quit.

All this falls in line with Oz’s nationwide smoking decline, Mohdin notes: 19.4 percent of the country smoked 34 months before the package reform hit, and that was down to 17.2 percent 34 months afterward. Branding matters.

Australia Is Figuring Out How to Get People to Quit Smoking