UK follows Australia’s lead on tobacco plain packaging

UK cigarettes will be sold in plain packaging from May 21

The UK is the second country in the world and the first in Europe to require cigarettes to be sold in plain, standardised packaging, following the lead of Australia which implemented the measure in December 2012.

Standardised packaging legislation came into force in the UK after it was phased in last  year, with retailers being given a year to sell through old stock. From May 2017, all packs sold in the UK must meet standardised requirements including removal of most branding features apart from the name in standard font, and an increase in the size of graphic health warnings which are now required to be on the front as well as the back of packs.

The anti-smoking lobby group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says research shows that plain or “unattractive” packs can reduce the appeal of cigarettes  and discourage young people from starting and supporting smokers who want to quit.

“Packs started appearing in the shops last summer, and now very few non-standardised packs are still available for sale.”

The new packaging. Image: ASH

It cited research UK research which looked at the impact of plain packs on smokers. Smokers who had seen the packs:
• 60% thought they looked less attractive
• 51% noticed the health warnings more
• 29% prompted thoughts about quitting
• 29% made them wish they didn’t smoke
• 26% less likely to look forward to their next cigarette
• 23% less likely to take their pack out in front of friends and family

“These early findings are in keeping with what was seen in Australia following introduction of standard packs,” ASH said.

“Retailers are also seeing an impact on customers. Newcastle-based small retailer John McClurey said,

“‘I don’t enjoy selling tobacco, but I do it because my customers ask for it. I’ve been really cheered by the number of customers coming in recently telling me they’re thinking of quitting because smoking cigarettes from the standardised packs with large and off-putting images on the front isn’t as enjoyable, they just don’t taste as good. I will be putting leaflets out for our local stop smoking service as I know smokers chances of quitting will be improved if they get help.’”

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH says:

“Standard packs are a landmark public health policy the tobacco industry fought tooth and nail to prevent. As evidence grows it is easy to see why. Smokers already saying they feel differently about their pack of cigarettes and in years to come we expect to see fewer young people smoking as they are no longer seduced by glitzy, brightly coloured packs.”

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