All tobacco packs on sale will be in standardised “plain” packs from 20th May 2017

12 May 2017

Standardised packaging

This image shows packaging compliant with TPD and Standardised Packaging regulations. You are welcome to save and reuse the image but you must credit ASH as the source.

One year after the tobacco companies were required to manufacture all cigarette in standardised “plain” packs the transition period is coming to an end and all packs on sale in shops will also be required to meet these standards. Under the new packaging and labelling regulations cigarettes and tobacco will no longer be sold in bright, glitzy packs, but in drab green packages. They will have large graphic images on the front and back of the packets to highlight the health effects of smoking and health warnings must appear at the top of all packs. [To see the effects of attractive packaging see here for a short video produced by Cancer Research UK.]

The UK was only the second country in the world to pass legislation on standardised packaging following Australia in 2012, with many others following on including France, Ireland, Hungary and Norway. For the fourth year in a row the UK is at the top of the European league table for tobacco policy implementation. [1] The transition period is slightly different for the Tobacco Products Directive (all packs must be compliant from 12am Saturday 20th May) and for the standardised packs regulations (all packs must be fully compliant from 12 am Sunday 21st May), but in effect all packs will have to be compliant by 20th May.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH, said:

“Getting rid of glitzy heavily branded tobacco packs is the latest in a long line of achievements by the UK which is a global leader in tobacco control. We now have among the fastest declining smoking rates in the world thanks to decades of sound policy, but smoking rates among the poorest and most disadvantaged remain high. If this is to change then a priority for the next Government must be to publish a new tobacco control plan with tough new targets, focused on tackling health inequalities.”

The new packaging rules are contained in two sets of regulations:

1. Regulations requiring cigarettes sold in the UK to be in standardised “plain” packaging” [2]
2. The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 [3] bringing into effect the EU Tobacco Products Directive [4]

Standardised “Plain” Packaging

Standardised or “plain” packaging is tobacco packaging that has had all the attractive features removed. In March 2015 MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of introducing regulations to standardise the appearance of all tobacco packaging in the UK [5]. This includes:

• The material, size, shape and opening mechanism of the packaging;
• The colour of packaging and cigarettes;
• The font, colour, size, case and alignment of text.

Tobacco Products Directive

The Tobacco Products Directive applies to all tobacco products manufactured and sold within EU member states. With regards to tobacco packaging the revised TPD:
• Requires combined picture and text health warnings to cover 65% of the front and back of cigarette and roll-your-own tobacco packages. [6]
• Requires health warnings to appear at the top of the packet (as per the illustration).
• Prohibits certain promotional and misleading descriptors on packaging of tobacco products such as “lite”, “natural” and “organic”.
• Requires that cigarettes are sold in packs of a minimum of 20 sticks and Hand Rolling Tobacco in a minimum of 30 gram packets.

The Tobacco Products Directive also:

• Prohibits cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco with characterising flavours, for example, fruits or chocolate. Menthol tobacco will be prohibited from 20th May 2020.
• Introduces EU-wide tracking and tracing to combat illicit trade of tobacco products. This will apply from 20th May 2019 for cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco and 20th May 2024 for all other tobacco products.
• Electronic cigarettes – the TPD also includes a number of regulations regarding electronic cigarettes (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is the responsible authority and more information about how the regulations can be found on its website):
o Child resistant/ tamper evident packaging is required for liquids and devices
o The device must be protected against breakage and leakage and capable of being refilled without leakage
o Devices must deliver a consistent dose of nicotine under normal conditions
o Tank and cartridge sizes must be no more than 2ml in volume and nicotine strengths of liquids must be no more than 20mg/ml.
o There must be a 30% health warning ‘This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance’ on front and back of packs
o Cross border advertising is banned, which includes TV, radio, print and internet advertising

Legal challenges

The tobacco industry challenged both the Tobacco Products Directive through the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and standardised packaging regulations through the UK courts. On 4th May 2016 the ECJ ruled that the TPD is lawful, [7] and on the 19th May 2016 the tobacco industry’s legal challenge to standardised packaging was defeated in the UK courts. [8] On 11th April 2017 the UK Supreme court refused the tobacco industry leave to appeal the decision any further.[9]

PLEASE NOTE: Standardised packs are NOT plain white packs. They carry graphic and text health warnings as above. Print standard images are available from ASH


Notes and Links

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

[1] Tobacco Control Scale 2016. Launched at the European Conference on Tobacco or Health March 2017
[2] The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations, 2015
[3] 2016 No. 507 The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (PDF)
[4] Revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, 2014 (PDF)
[5] Hansard. 11 Mar 2015: Column 379
[6] See here for the full picture library of combined health warnings. The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, consultation draft (PDF)
[7] ASH press release. European Court of Justice rules Tobacco Products Directive is lawful – gives backing to UK’s policy on standardised packaging. 4th May 2016
[8] ASH press release. Tobacco Companies’ Legal Challenge to Standardised Tobacco Packaging Fails: Other Countries to Follow UK Lead. 19th May 2016
[9] Monckton Chambers. Supreme Court stubs out Big Tobacco’s judicial review of UK plain packaging laws. 13th April 2017.

ASH staff are available for interview or comment. ASH has an ISDN line.

Contacts: ASH office 020 7404 0242
Deborah Arnott 07976 935987
Hazel Cheeseman 07754 358593