nav 2: what-is-it-and-why-is-it-needed
Plain packaging of tobacco is a common sense policy that removes the promotional, marketing and advertising features on packs of tobacco, but leaves the health warnings, tax stamps and other features required by government. Most governments have increased the size of the health warnings at the same time as introducing plain packaging. The main elements of a plain packaging of tobacco policy are:
Examples of Gauloises cigarette packets in France, before and after plain packaging.
Packaging for all products can act as a form of promotion, marketing and advertising. This is even truer for tobacco because in countries where other advertising is restricted, the pack becomes the main means of promoting tobacco; and tobacco is a ‘badge product’ which people carry around with them and display every time they take the pack out.1
Brightly coloured and attractive branding distracts attention from the health warnings
Even where misleading descriptors such as ‘light’ and ‘mild’ have been banned, branded packaging continues to create strong but false perceptions that some variants are less harmful than others. These ‘health reassurance’ brands use light and bright colors to mislead consumers and help to maintain addiction.
See Tobacco Branding in the Tools and Resources for full details about the use of packaging as a marketing tool by the tobacco industry.
“Our final communication vehicle with our smoker is the pack itself. In the absence of any other marketing messages, our packaging...is the sole communicator of our brand essence. Put another way—when you don’t have anything else—our packaging is our marketing.” BAT executive.
AUSTRALIA “IS ACQUIRING OUR BILLBOARD”… In the legal claim in the Australian High Court, counsel for Japan Tobacco International argued that tobacco packaging acted like an advertising billboard.
Gum or Tobacco. Some cigarette packs are clearly aimed at children.
The most commonly used term for the policy is ‘plain packaging’ – this is the term used by Australia and the WHO. But because packs retain the health warnings they are not literally ‘plain’, and the industry has tried to spread confusion about this. In the UK and Ireland the term used is ‘standardised packaging’. In France the term used is ‘neutral packaging’ and elsewhere governments have called it ‘generic packaging’. These are all different terms for the same policy.
Plain packaging helps to change smoking attitudes and behaviours and reduce the overall demand for tobacco. It is likely to have a greater impact on younger people. Plain packaging:
See Guide 1.1 Set the objectives for more details.
Yes. There have been five international systematic evidence reviews that considered all the peer reviewed research studies from around the globe on the impact of plain packaging on smoking behaviours and attitudes. 2 All concluded that the policy would be effective at contributing to its objectives.
In Australia, over 4 years of post-implementation data shows continued significant declines in smoking rates. 3 The government’s post implementation review concluded that a 0.55 percentage point drop could be attributed to plain packaging (equivalent to 118,000 less people smoking 4 over 3 years),
The tobacco industry has refused to release any of its own internal research into the impacts of plain packaging. The studies the tobacco companies rely on to oppose plain packaging are almost universally not peer reviewed; are unverifiable; and either ignore or airily dismiss the global evidence that supports the policy being effective. 5
See Guide 2.1: Evidence review, together with the pages on the Research Evidence and Australia’s post implementation evidence in the Tools and Resources for fully referenced information on all the supporting evidence.
1Wakefield et al (2002) The cigarette pack as image: new evidence from tobacco industry documents, Tobacco Control. 11(suppl.1):i73−i80 http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/11/suppl_1/i73.full
2 i. Cancer Council Victoria (Australia 2011)
ii. The Stirling Review (United Kingdom 2012 and updated 2013) http://phrc.lshtm.ac.uk/project_2011-2016_006.html
iii. The Chanter Review (United Kingdom 2014) http://www.kcl.ac.uk/health/10035-TSO-2901853-Chantler-Review-ACCESSIBLE.PDF
iv. The Hammond Review (Ireland 2014) http://health.gov.ie/blog/publications/standardised-packaging-d-hammond/
v. The Cochrane Review (international 2017)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011244.pub2/abstract
3The Australian government’s Post Implementation Review was published in February 2016 and concludes that plain packaging is having a positive impact. https://ris.govspace.gov.au/2016/02/26/tobacco-plain-packaging/
5 The judge in the UK High Court case highlighted that the tobacco industry had not disclosed any of its own research and data and heavily criticised the experts the tobacco companies relied on. R (British American Tobacco &Ors) v Secretary of State for Health  EWHC 1169 (Admin)