'Plain cigarette packs could lower smoking'

London, Jan 27 (IANS) Plain packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products could lower the incidence of smoking, says a British study.

Experts from the University of Cambridge's Behaviour and Health Research unit estimate that two years after the introduction of generic packaging, the number of adult smokers would be reduced by one percentage point in Britian from 21 to 20 percent.

Similarly, the percentage of children trying to smoke would be lowered by three percentage points, from 27 to 24 percent, they said, the journal BMC Public Health reports.

Because Australia, the first country to implement plain packaging, only did so last December there is no quantifiable evidence as of yet, according to a Cambridge statement.

Therefore, scientists have used the next best option, the expertise of internationally-renowned tobacco control specialists from around the world. For the study, 33 tobacco control experts from Britain (14), Australasia (12) and North America (seven) were recruited.

Professionals in these regions were targeted because these countries are currently considering (or have recently implemented) plain packaging for tobacco products.

They were then interviewed about how plain packaging -- packaging without brand imagery or promotional text and using standardised formatting -- might impact the rates of smoking in adults and children.

Theresa Marteau, professor and director of the Cambridge Unit, who led the study, said: "Currently, approximately 10 million adults in Britain smoke. A one percentage point decline -- from 21 percent of the population to 20 percent, would equate to 500,000 people who will not suffer the health effects of smoking."

Rachel Pechey, study co-author from Cambridge Unit, said: "Given that the majority of smokers first try smoking in adolescence, the impact on children is of particular importance. Nicotine dependence develops rapidly after lighting up for the first time, even before the user is smoking once a week."

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