ASH Media Advisory: First anniversary of implementation of standardised tobacco packaging in Australia

Wednesday 27 November 2013


Sunday 1st December 2013 marks the first anniversary of the implementation of standardised tobacco packaging in Australia  The impact on both adults and young people in Australia has been positive (see Section 2 below).  The measure was supported by a substantial (12.5%) rise in tobacco tax and will be bolstered by annual increases for the next four years.  Contrary to tobacco industry claims (see Section 6 below), there is no good evidence that standardised packs have led to a rise in illicit trade.

The UK Government has not yet decided whether to proceed with standardised packaging but the Scottish Government is developing plans to press ahead with standardised packaging independently of Westminster in 2014, as is the Republic of Ireland.  Standardised packaging has cross-party and public support in the UK.

Images of Australian packs can be found here.

What is Standardised Packaging?

Standardised packaging would remove the attractive promotional aspects of existing tobacco packaging and require that the appearance of all tobacco packs be uniform.  This includes both the colour of the pack and the font used to display the brand names.  Standardised packaging also makes anti-smoking and health messages more prominent.

1.    What does the Australian law require?

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 came into effect on 1 December 2012.  The law requires that all branding apart from the brand name is removed from tobacco packaging, leaving the pictorial health warning as the only visual image on the pack.  In addition, the health warnings were increased in size from 30% of the front of the pack to 75% of the front surface.  Pictorial warnings also occupy 90% of the back surface. [1] There is good evidence that large pictorial warnings encourage smokers to quit and dissuade children from starting. [2]

2.    What has been the impact of standardised tobacco packaging in Australia?

Soon after standardised packs began to appear in shops in Australia, smokers reported that they found cigarettes from plain packs less appealing or satisfying.  Research showed that, compared with smokers who were still using branded packs, the plain pack smokers were 66% more likely to think their cigarettes were poorer quality than a year ago.  They were also 70% more likely to say they found them less satisfying, 81% more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day during the previous week and to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives than smokers using brand packs. [3]

There was also a big increase in the number of people contacting smoking quitlines following the introduction of the new packs. [4]

A study commissioned by the British Heart Foundation compared the reactions of young people to cigarette packs in the UK and Australia.  The poll of 2,500 13 to 18-year-olds showed that current packaging for cigarettes only discourages 33 per cent of British teens from taking up the habit.  In Australia, half of the young people surveyed said that standardised cigarette packaging had stopped them from smoking.  The survey also revealed that nearly 8 in 10 young people (77%) think the UK should introduce standardised cigarette packs – like those in Australia – and that two thirds (66%) of Australian teens think the packs should be introduced elsewhere in the world. [5]

A report by consultancy London Economics, commissioned by Philip Morris International, has tried unsuccessfully to dismiss falls in smoking prevalence and increased noticeability of health warnings in Australia after the introduction of standardised packs.  Although the sample size used in the study is not large enough for the findings to be statistically significant, the study did show a small fall in smoking and a dramatic increase in awareness of the health warnings.[6]

3.    Other jurisdictions where standardised packaging is under consideration

TheScottish government has declared its intention to press ahead with standardised packaging independently of Westminster.  It’s programme for 2013/14 states that “Scottish Ministers regret the UK Government’s decision not to proceed with legislation to introduce plain packaging for cigarettesand other tobacco products. The Scottish Government is determined to take forward this important public health measure, and will consult on the issue in the coming months, with the intention of introducing legislation in 2014-15.” [7]

In Ireland, Health Minister James Reilly announced in May that he had received full Cabinet approval to begin drafting legislation which would make it illegal to put branding on cigarette packets. The Government has announced that standardised packs will go ahead in 2014. [8]

The Government of New Zealand has also committed to introduce standardised packaging but is awaiting the outcome of legal challenges.  Other jurisdictions considering implementing standardised packaging are Finland and France.

4.    UK Government position

On July 12th, Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt announced in a Ministerial Statement that “the Government has decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured before we make a final decision on this policy in England.”  [9]

In October, the newly appointed Public Health Minister Jane Ellison commented:

“Stopping children and young people smoking is a priority for us all; all Members care deeply about the health of their constituents. I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we are looking at that very seriously and assessing all the new information available, not just from this country but from around the world.”  [10]

Since then, a cross-party amendment has been tabled to the Children’s and Families Bill which would provide the framework for the introduction of standardised packaging. A debate on the issue took place in the House of Lords on the 20th November. [11]  Speaking for the Government Earl Howe said:

“I give the Grand Committee an absolute assurance that that policy is still very much under active consideration; we have not ruled out its introduction.”

The Report Stage of the Bill will commence on 9th December at which point there could be a vote on the standard packaging amendment.  If this does not occur before recess, the vote wil take place early in January.

5.    Public and political support

Standardised packaging is not a Party political issue; it is strongly supported by politicians of all parties and by crossbenchers in the House of Lords. Politicians who have publicly stated their support for standardised packaging include:

•           Former Public Health Minister Anna Soubry MP (Conservative), who said that: “I’ve seen the evidence. I’ve seen the consultation. I’ve been personally persuaded of it, but that doesn’t mean to say that all my colleagues are persuaded and that’s the debate we now have to have”.

•           Care Minister Norman Lamb MP (Liberal Democrat), who said that: “I think it would be a legacy for this government to have legislated on something which would be a landmark public health reform and to be out there in front in Europe.

•           Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP (Labour), who said in the 13th May 2013 debate on the Queen’s Speech that: “if [the Secretary of State for Health] brings forward these proposals, they will have our full support and we will get them on the statute book.”

Standardised packaging is also popular with the public. A poll on the issue by YouGov, conducted for ASH in February 2013, found that overall 64% of adults in Great Britain were in favour of standardised packaging. [11a]  A further poll by YouGov conducted in March showed support for the policy from 62% of those intending to vote Conservative, 63% of Labour and 60% of Liberal Democrats. There was majority support across all ages, genders and social classes. [11b]

6.    Tobacco Industry claims

The most commonly employed tobacco industry argument against standardised packaging is that it would lead to an increase in illicit trade.  A tobacco industry commissioned report by consultancy KPMG published in November 2013 claims to show an increase in illicit trade in Australia since the introduction of standardised packs. [12] However, a critique of this study by Quit Victoria found that the findings were likely to be exaggerated as a result of the methodology used. [13] HM Revenue and Customs, asked by a House of Lords Committee about the impact of standardised packaging said that “We’re very doubtful that it would have a material effect.”  [on counterfeiting and the illicit trade in tobacco].[14]


Notes and Links:

[1] The legislation consists of the  Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011and the Trademark Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Act 2011

[2] See for example new research just published in the journal Tobacco Control which shows that graphic warning labels on cigarette packs led to a decrease in smoking rates in Canada of between 12% and 20% from 2000 to 2009.

Jidong Huang, Frank J Chaloupka, Geoffrey T Fong.   Cigarette graphic warning labels and smoking prevalence in Canada: a critical examination and reformulation of the FDA regulatory impact analysis

Tob Control Published Online First: 11 November 2013 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013-051170

[3] Wakefield M et al (2013); Introduction effects of the Australia plain packaging policy on adult smokers: a cross-sectional study; BMJ Open 2013;3:e003175 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003175;

[4] Australian Plain Tobacco Packaging with Vivid Anti-Smoking Graphics Kicks Off. International business Times, 27 Dec. 2012

[5] Cigarette packaging featuring health warnings ‘deters more than a third of teenagers from smoking’. Daily Mail, 07 Oct. 2013

[6] An analysis of smoking prevalence in Australia.  London Economics, Nov. 2013

[7] Empowering Scotland: The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2013-14; page 67

[8] Public hearings to be held on proposals to standardise cigarette packaging.  The Journal 19 Nov 2013

[9]   Written Ministerial Statement by Secretary of State for Health, 12th July 2013.

[10] Response to Oral questions.  Jane Ellison: Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for Health, Hansard, House of Commons 22 Oct 2013 : Column 132

[11] House of Lords Hansard.  Children and Families Bill. Grand Committee debate, Col 414, 20th November 2013

[11a] The first poll total sample size was 12171 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1st and 19th February 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The second poll was conducted on the 10th and 11th March 2013 showing the views of the public by which party they supported. The poll used a representative sample of 1684 adults. Respondents were shown what a standard pack could look like, including larger health warnings as in Australia.

[11b] The YouGov poll, conducted on the 10th and 11th March 2013, revealed the views of the public by which party they support.  Support by voting intention was 62% of those intending to vote Conservative, 63% of Labour and 60% of Liberal Democrats. There was majority support across all ages, genders and social classes. This was a representative sample of 1684 adults.   Respondents were shown what a standard pack could look like, including larger health warnings as in Australia and envisaged under the revised EU Tobacco Products Directive.

[12] KPMG LLP. Illicit tobacco in Australia. 2013 half year report October 2013.

[13] Quit Victoria. Analysis of KPMG LLP report on use of illicit tobacco in Australia.  11 Nov. 2013

[14] Andrew Leggett, Deputy Director for Tobacco and Alcohol Strategy at HM Revenue and Customs. Oral evidence to the House of Lords European Union Sub Committee (Home Affairs) on 24th July 2013.