Download the Policy Brief: What is it and why is it needed?

1. What is Plain Packaging of Tobacco? 

Examples of Gauloises cigarette packets in France, before and after plain packaging.

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:

  • Packaging must be a uniform, plain, unattractive color -usually a dull brown/green;
  • All packs must be a standard shape, size and texture, and be made from cardboard;
  • No branding, logos or other promotional elements can appear on the packaging - or on individual cigarette sticks;
  • The brand and product name can appear on each pack, as well as the quantity of product in the pack and manufacturer’s contact details, but in a standard size, color and typeface.
  • Health warnings, tax stamps and other government requirements remain on the packs.

2. Why is it Needed?

Gum or Tobacco. Some cigarette packs are clearly aimed at children.

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 colored 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 Pack Branding - Theory and Practice for full details about the use of packaging as a marketing tool by the tobacco industry. As a Philip Morris executive has stated ...

“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.” 

In the legal claim in the Australian High Court, counsel for Japan Tobacco International argued that tobacco packaging acted like an advertising billboard. JTI claimed that Australia ...

is acquiring our billboard

3. Plain or Standardised?

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.

4. How will Plain Packaging Work?

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:

  • Reduces the appeal and attractiveness of tobacco products to consumers,

  • Increases the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings on the packaging of tobacco products,

  • Reduces the ability of the packaging of tobacco products to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking or using tobacco products.

See Guide 1.1: Set Policy Objectives for more details.

5. Does it Work – What Does the Evidence Say?

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 behaviors 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 smoking4 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 Post Implementation Evidence from Australia for fully referenced information on all the supporting evidence.

Notes
  1. Wakefield 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
    1. Cancer Council Victoria (Australia 2011) http://www.cancervic.org.au/plainfacts/plainfacts-evidence
    2. The Stirling Review (United Kingdom 2012 and updated 2013) http://phrc.lshtm.ac.uk/project_2011-2016_006.html
    3. The Chanter Review (United Kingdom 2014) http://www.kcl.ac.uk/health/10035-TSO-2901853-Chantler-Review-ACCESSIBLE.PDF
    4. The Hammond Review (Ireland 2014) http://health.gov.ie/blog/publications/standardised-packaging-d-hammond/
    5. The Cochrane Review (international 2017)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011244.pub2/abstract
  2. The 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/
  3. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6248cfee-11e3-11e6-91da-096d89bd2173.html#axzz48RqRYYOE
  4. 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 [2016] EWHC 1169 (Admin)