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Tackling tobacco and improving public health

Tobacco causes immense damage to our society. Smoking is the largest cause of cancer in the UK, and more than one in two smokers who persist with the habit die as a result. In the UK alone, this amounts to more than six million deaths since the early 1950s, yet smoking remains prevalent. In the UK, approximately one in six adults continue to smoke, with this proportion rising significantly in our poorest communities.  

Our work to make tobacco products less attractive has been recognised with the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, and we continue to conduct groundbreaking research designed to tackle one of society’s biggest health problems.

Tackling tobacco

Our Institute for Social Marketing experts, often supported by Cancer Research UK, help to investigate the effects of the tobacco industry’s marketing activities and determine the most effective ways to counter them.  

Research conducted at the University has informed tobacco policy and legislation in the UK and worldwide. The Institute found point-of-sale marketing of tobacco, including tobacco display racks, directly influences consumer behaviour. The research contributed directly to the development of the 2009 Health Act (England and Wales) and the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010 – both of which restrict the display of tobacco at the point of sale in order to make tobacco products less attractive.

The display ban on tobacco was implemented successfully in large shops and supermarkets between 2012 and 2013, with smaller shops required to comply by 2015.

Research conducted at the University has informed tobacco policy and legislation in the UK and worldwide.

infographic: UoS experts

UoS experts

explore the impact of commercial and social marketing on society

infographic: Our research

Our research

contributed directly to health acts which restrict the display of tobacco at the point of sale

infographic: Point-of-sale

Point-of-sale

tobacco display ban has had a significant reduction in youth smoking susceptibility

Reducing youth smoking

Research published in 2019 shows that the ban on point-of-sale tobacco displays has had a significant reduction in youth smoking susceptibility. The study, published in the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control, examined the impact of the policy on 11-16-year-olds who had never smoked. Smoking susceptibility among never smokers decreased from 28 percent pre-ban to 23 percent mid-ban, and 18 percent post-ban. Noticing cigarettes at point-of-sale decreased from 81 percent pre-ban, to 28 percent post-ban; and cigarette brand awareness also reduced, with the average number of cigarette brands recalled declining from 0.97 pre-ban to 0.69 post-ban. The study also found that 90% of those surveyed supported the display ban.

"Contrary to Big Tobacco’s belief that banning displays would make no difference, this study shows that by putting cigarettes out of sight and out of mind far fewer youngsters are taking up the deathly habit."

Kruti Shrotri, Tobacco Control Manager, Cancer Research UK

Reducing harm

The work of the Institute has played a key role in the UK Government’s decision to introduce standardised (or plain) packaging of cigarettes in 2017. A recent study, funded by Cancer Research UK and led by the Institute’s Dr Crawford Moodie, shows the impact of standardised packaging. It found that smokers are more likely to notice and attend to the health warnings on standardised packs than on fully-branded packs, and more likely to think about the risks of smoking and about quitting because of standardised packs – an important insight that feeds into a global effort to measure the effectiveness of changes to the way tobacco is marketed.

Our experts are also playing a key role in a new £5.9 million research consortium exploring how the marketing of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink has a detrimental impact on health. Stirling's Dr Niamh Fitzgerald will be Deputy Director of the SPECTRUM research programme, which will focus on the impact of commercial factors – such as strategies used to promote products – on health and health inequalities. The study seeks to bring researchers together to share evidence and options for reducing harm from tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy products and, ultimately, ensure that the research is well positioned to effectively impact policy and practice in the UK.

Our experts found that smokers are more likely to notice and attend to the health warnings on standardised packs than on fully-branded packs.

Related news

person holding cigarette pack

Smoking risk in children has fallen since tobacco display ban

The risk of 11 to 16-year-olds taking up smoking has reduced following the introduction of a ban on the open display of tobacco products in the UK, according to a new University of Stirling study.

plain packaging cigarettes

Study reveals impact of plain cigarette packaging warnings

Health warnings on plain-packaged cigarettes have more of an impact on smokers than those on branded packs, according to new research from the University of Stirling.

man drinking beer and smoking

£5.9m study to tackle impact of tobacco, alcohol and obesity

Experts at the University of Stirling are part of a new £5.9 million research consortium looking at how the marketing of alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drink has a detrimental impact on health.

Recent related publications

Impact of a ban on the open display of tobacco products in retail outlets on never smoking youth in the UK: findings from a repeat cross-sectional survey before, during and after implementation
Ford A, MacKintosh AM, Moodie C, Kuipers M, Hastings G & Bauld L (2019) Impact of a ban on the open display of tobacco products in retail outlets on never smoking youth in the UK: findings from a repeat cross-sectional survey before, during and after implementation. Tobacco Control. https://doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054831

Smokers’ response to standardised packaging
Moodie C, Brose LS, Hyun L, Power E, Bauld L (in press). How did smokers respond to standardised cigarette packaging with new, larger health warnings in the United Kingdom during the transition period? Addiction Research & Theory.

Young people’s responses to standardised packaging one year after full implementation in the UK: a qualitative study (Meeting Abstract)
Ford A, MacKintosh AM & Moodie C (2019) Young people’s responses to standardised packaging one year after full implementation in the UK: a qualitative study (Meeting Abstract). In: SRNT: 25th Anniversary - Abstracts. Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) 25th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, USA, 20.02.2019-23.02.2019. SRNT, p. 122. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.srnt.org/resource/resmgr/SRNT19_Abstracts.pdf

Pricing of tobacco products during, and after, the introduction of standardized packaging: An observational study of retail price data from independent and convenience (small) retailers in the United Kingdom
Critchlow N, Stead M, Moodie C, Angus K, Eadie D & MacKintosh AM (2018) Pricing of tobacco products during, and after, the introduction of standardized packaging: An observational study of retail price data from independent and convenience (small) retailers in the United Kingdom [Tobacco pricing and standardised packaging]. Addiction. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.14488

The Response of Retailers in Scotland to the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations and Tobacco Products Directive
Purves RI, Moodie C, Eadie D & Stead M (2019) The Response of Retailers in Scotland to the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations and Tobacco Products Directive. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 21 (3), pp. 309-313. https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/nty181

How tobacco companies in the United Kingdom prepared for, and responded to, standardised packaging of cigarettes and rolling tobacco
Moodie C, Angus K, Mitchell D & Critchlow N (2018) How tobacco companies in the United Kingdom prepared for, and responded to, standardised packaging of cigarettes and rolling tobacco. Tobacco Control, 27 (e1), pp. e85-e92. https://doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2017-054011

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