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Spread of Plain Packaging Boosts Fight Against Tobacco this World No Tobacco Day

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
May 31, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As countries mark World No Tobacco Day, recognized by the World Health Organization each year on May 31, global efforts to fight tobacco use are getting a critical boost from an innovative and fast-spreading new strategy – laws requiring that cigarettes and other tobacco products be sold in plain packaging, without logos and other colorful branding that increase the appeal of these deadly and addictive products to youth.

On May 20, the United Kingdom and France became the second and third countries to implement plain packaging, joining Australia. Ireland has also enacted a plain packaging law and is finalizing implementing regulations.

New Zealand and Norway today announced plans to move forward quickly with plain packaging, and legislation is in the process of adoption in Hungary. Plain packaging has been included in tobacco control bills introduced in Brazil, Chile, Panama and Slovenia. Other countries formally considering plain packaging include Belgium, Canada, Finland, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay (view a full list on our web site).

As more countries adopt plain packaging, what once was seen as a revolutionary policy is well on its way to becoming a standard practice in national tobacco control policies worldwide.

Tobacco companies have fiercely opposed plain packaging because they know it works. In Australia, public understanding of the dangers of tobacco use rose and smoking rates fell at the fastest pace in more than two decades following the 2012 implementation of plain packaging and other tobacco control measures. (See our summary of the scientific evidence supporting plain packaging.)

Plain packaging has received a significant boost from recent legal rulings. On May 4, the European Union’s highest court ruled against the tobacco industry and found that the EU’s new tobacco regulations (called the Tobacco Products Directive) allowed member states to implement plain packaging. On May 18, the United Kingdom’s High Court upheld that country’s plain packaging law, rejecting every argument made by tobacco companies and giving a devastating critique of the expert evidence they relied on. In December, an international investment tribunal threw out a challenge by Philip Morris International to Australia’s plain packaging law, which had previously been upheld in that country’s domestic courts.

Australia’s success and these legal victories have spurred countries to consider plain packaging as a key element of a comprehensive approach to reducing tobacco use, along with large, graphic health warnings, advertising bans, higher tobacco taxes and 100 percent smoke-free laws. Standardized or “plain” packaging of tobacco products requires that packaging have a uniform plain color, shape and size, without colorful branding or other promotional elements that attract kids, undermine health warnings or mislead consumers about the harms of tobacco use.

However, legal setbacks have not stopped tobacco companies from continuing to fight plain packaging. The World Trade Organization is due to issue a decision soon in a trade-related challenge to Australia’s law. Tobacco companies plan to challenge France’s law, and several have said they will appeal the UK ruling.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids commends Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Ireland for standing strong against the tobacco industry and protecting the health of their citizens by adopting plain packaging laws. We urge nations that are considering plain packaging to move forward quickly. Without bold action now, tobacco use will kill one billion people worldwide this century.

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