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New cigarette law will not necessarily stop smokers

The South African government’s proposed introduction of plain tobacco packaging would not, alone, be enough to reduce the consumption of tobacco products.

This is according to a new study by Helvin Manuel, an MBA graduate of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

He said new legislation, instead, would have a significant impact on law enforcement and taxes.

As part of his MBA, Manuel studied the potential impact of non-branded packaging on the purchasing behaviour and product experience of cigarette consumers, drawing on additional learning from Australia, the first in the world to implement such a strategy in 2011.

“With the legal market size of the SA tobacco industry estimated to be more than 20 billion cigarette sticks, valued in excess of R30-billion, the possibility of this new legislation is a concern to the local tobacco industry, as it could potentially have a direct impact on profit margins,” said Manuel.

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“Since the amendment to the Tobacco Product Control Act was implemented in 1999, banning all advertising, packaging has become an important part of marketing, with significant investments to differentiate between brands in different segments, to increase brand equity and perceived quality and to serve as an advertising tool.”

Manuel’s simulation study of 22 South African smokers, who each had to smoke their brand in plain white packs for a period of five days, found that the longer consumers interacted with the plain tobacco packaging, the more familiar they became with the packs and that seemed to lessen the initial negative perceptions.

Some even indicated that they might use cigarette holders as a substitute, which could potentially offer some form of branding opportunities for tobacco manufacturers.

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“Since all brand equity had been removed from the cigarette packaging and without product differentiation tobacco manufacturers cannot charge a premium for their various products, some consumers indicated that they did not get the same value from their brands and felt that the prices of cigarettes should be standardised across the board,” Manuel said.

“This could potentially increase the demand and usage of cigarettes, mirroring what happened in the Australian market, where the decline in prices resulted in an increase in consumption.”

However, Manuel found that the value for money consumer approved more of the plain packs.

“The taste of the cigarettes and the price of the packs are more important than the image of the brand,” he explained.

Manuel said that although governments have good intentions with the implementation of plain tobacco packaging, there are certain unintended consequences that have to be taken into account when such legislation is drafted.

“Plain tobacco packaging will make counterfeiting of original products easier and pose a challenge for law enforcement,” he said.

“This illicit trade could also lead to governments losing money from possible taxes that could have been received from the legal tobacco industry.

”A study conducted by >KPMG in 2013, in Australia, found that the increase in illicit products since the implementation of plain tobacco packaging has resulted in a loss of £560-million (R12-billion, currently) in taxes.”Manuel pointed out that non-branded packs are seen as less attractive and ”un-cool”, causing embarrassment which could potentially deter younger people from taking up smoking in the first place.

“Smokers are emotional in their behaviour and brand choices. Many took up smoking due to peer pressure, the perceived social acceptance and the status the brand equity of premium cigarettes portrayed,” he explained.

“My study found that the psychological impact of the non-branded packs led to some consumers experiencing a change in the taste and performance of the cigarettes, although the product itself had not changed. This will even have a direct impact on new consumers considering taking up smoking.”

The participants in the research had to complete a daily online journal, expressing their interaction with the plain packs over the five days by way of pre-set questionnaires prepared by Manuel, and a live online forum on completion.

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