In March 2015, before the UK’s general election, standardised packaging of tobacco products was voted in to be implemented in the UK on the 20th of May 2016.
The implementation of standardised packaging in the UK requires all manufactured tobacco and roll your own (RYO) packaging to look the same and only be distinguishable by the brand name in standard font.
Key features of the proposed standardised packaging (summarised by Cancer Research UK):
- Picture health warnings will remain.
- Brand names in standard type face, colour and size.
- The shape and colour of the packs – as well as the design of the actual cigarettes – will be standardised.
- The ‘duty paid’ stamp will remain with covert markings that show the pack is not counterfeit.
- Cigarette packs will also be standardised in size and colour.
What are the reasons for the policy change?
One of the main drivers for the new policy is that it will reduce one of the influences on young people to start smoking (Daube, 2013). Cigarette packets are now the only form of advertising tobacco companies are allowed to use in the UK (Carr-Gregg, 1989). They are bright, attractive, and research has shown that when children are aware of cigarette packets it increases the likelihood of them taking up smoking (Chantler, 2014). Evidence from Australia, the first country to implement this policy, shows a decrease in the rates of smoking uptake in adolescents (Kmietowicz, 2014), and this effect is likely to have been an influence on the adoption of the policy in the UK (Chantler, 2014).
Cancer Research UK launched a campaign in 2012 with an emotive video that highlighted the impact of tobacco marketing on children. In addition to deterring children from smoking, the policy also aims to continue the decline in smoking prevalence in the UK by promoting cessation, with the latest survey data putting the prevalence at 17.9% (West, Beard and Brown, 2015).
A systematic review in 2012 on plain tobacco packaging found that:
- Both adults and children in all studies involved in the review reported that standardised packs were rated as less attractive than equivalent branded packs.
- Plain packs were perceived to be poorer quality, poorer tasting and looked cheaper than equivalent branded packs.
- Positive impressins of smoker identity and personal brand association were weakened or disappeared with plain packaging.
- Non-smokers and younger people responded more negatively to plain packs than smokers and older people.
An update on the systematic review, carried out in 2013 supported these key findings and consistently found that standardised packaging reduced the appeal of the pack, cigarettes, and smoking in general.
What are the arguments against the policy?
The main argument against the policy is that it would increase illegal sales of tobacco, as it would be easier to counterfeit (see Sir Cyril’s Chantler’s Review for further arguments). However, the HMRC assessed the potential impact standardised packaging could have on the illicit market and found no evidence to suggest the illegal market will increase. This conclusion was supported by Sir Cyril Chantler who carried out an Independent Review on standardised packaging. As Hazel Cheesman, the Director of Policy at health charity ASH, has said:
“The HMRC report confirms the conclusions of independent reviews of the evidence and pours cold water on tobacco industry arguments that standard packs would increase smuggling.”
The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations is yet to be implemented, and so the information outlined above may be subject to change. The Government’s Impact Assessment document proposes a review five years after enactment, with the aim of demonstrating whether the proposed legislation is successful in discouraging uptake of smoking by young people and promoting smoking cessation among current smokers.
For more information:
The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015
Cancer Research Plain Packaging Campaign
Sir Cyril Chantlers Independent Review
Virtual Issue on Plain Packaging in Addiction Journal, by Professor Ann McNeill
- Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) (2015) HMRC Impact assessment on standardised cigarette packs. [Accessed 21st Sept 2015] Available from: http://www.ash.org.uk/media-room/press-releases/:hmrc-impact-assessment-on-standardised-cigarette-packs.
- Carr-Gregg, M. R., & Gray, A. J. (1989). ” Generic” packaging–a possible solution to the marketing of tobacco to young people. The Medical Journal of Australia, 153(11-12), 685-686.
- Chantler, S. C. (2014). Standardised packaging of tobacco: Report of the independent review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler. London, UK: Williams Lee.
- Daube, M., & Chapman, S. (2013). Cameron’s cave-in on plain packaging is a boost to industry. BMJ, 346.
- HM Revenue & Customs. (2014). The Introduction of Standardised Packaging for Tobacco: HMRC’s Assessment of the Potential Impact on the Illicit Market. The Stationary Office. [Accessed 22nd Sept 2015] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/403495/HMRC_impact_report.pdf
- Kmietowicz, Z. (2014). Australia sees large fall in smoking after introduction of standardised packs. BMJ, 349, g4689.
- Moodie, C., Stead, M., Bauld, L., McNeill, A., Angus, K., Hinds, K., & O’Mara-Eves, A. (2012). Plain tobacco packaging: a systematic review. [Accessed 22nd Sept 2015] Available from: http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/16381/1/Moodie_et_al._2012._Plain_Tobacco_Packaging._A_Systematic_Review.pdf
- Moodie C, Angus K, Stead M and Bauld L (2013). Plain Tobacco Packaging Research: An Update. Stirling, Scotland: Centre for Tobacco Control Research, Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling.
- UK Government. (2015). The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015. [Online]. The Stationary Office [Accessed 27 Jul 2015] Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/829/contents/made.
- West, R., Beard, E., & Brown, J. (2015). Trends in electronic cigarette use in England. [Online]. Smoking in England. [Accessed 30 Jul 2015] Available from www.smokinginengland.info/latest-statistics.
The opinions expressed in this commentary reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the Society for the Study of Addiction.