Her study involved using eye-tracking technology to monitor how long people linger on cigarette health warnings. She claimed that non-smokers (but not smokers) look at warnings for longer on plain packets than on normal packets and concluded that: "Plain packaging will make health warnings appear more prominent and strengthen their impact." This finding was duly misreported by our cretinous media under such headlines as "Smokers ignore health warnings".
There are a couple of critical flaws in this logic. Health warnings only tell people what they have known about smoking since they were about five years old and it takes a massive leap of faith to think that people's decision to smoke will be altered by an few extra milliseconds looking at them. It is simply absurd to believe, in 2012, that people of any age start smoking without being cognisant of the risks.
More interestingly, a vision scientist at Royal Holloway, University of London, has carried out a very similar experiment but got some quite different results. Dr Timothy Holmes used eye-tracking technology on a sample of 59 students and found the following...
...we were surprised to observe two interesting results: the non-smokers looked at the warning messages much less than the other participants, and there was no difference between plain and branded package designs in the amount of time spent looking at the warning message.
Now, it’s great that the right people are looking more at the warning message, but if this doesn’t result in an increased risk perception then surely the messages aren’t doing their job! Moreover, if removing the brand identity doesn’t change the way people look at the packets then maybe plain packaging, which will be costly to implement, isn’t the best of ideas.
Holmes' results are shown below. Non-smokers looked at the brand (blue) more than the warning (red) in both cases, but the type of packaging made no difference to either group.
So, on the one hand, you have a professional vision scientist who has no agenda and no axe grind finding that plain packaging won't make any difference (and giving plausible reasons to support his empirical data.) On the other hand, you have a professor of socio-management who works for an anti-smoking campaign group, using the same methods but finding that plain packaging will make a difference.
Ooh, who to trust?