Australia first country in the world to implement plain standardised packaging for tobacco products

Tuesday 27 November 2012

ASH Media Advisory – Date for Diary: Sat. 1st December 2012

What’s happening in Australia?

From 1 December 2012 Australia will become the first country in the world to require all cigarettes and other tobacco products to be sold in plain, standardised packaging. The law bans the use of logos, brand imagery, symbols, other images, colours and promotional text on tobacco products and tobacco product packaging. The packaging must be a standard drab dark brown colour in matt finish. Brand and product names will be permitted but must be in a standard colour, position, font size and style. As a result the graphic health warnings will be the most prominent feature of the packs. [1]

The primary purpose of standardised packaging is to dissuade children from becoming regular smokers but it is also expected to assist smokers wishing to quit. There is already good evidence that standardised packs:
• Are less attractive, particularly to children
• Make the health warnings more prominent
• Reduce the chances that people will be misled about the harm caused by smoking

Why it matters to the UK

The UK Government is currently considering whether to follow the Australian example.  If so the UK will become the first country in Europe to implement plain, standardised packaging of tobacco products.

The UK’s public consultation on tobacco packaging finished on 10 August 2012.  The consultation document makes it clear that while ‘plain packaging’ is the term commonly used, in practice packs would not actually be plain since the health warnings and other statutory information (e.g. tar/nicotine content, tax paid stamp) would still be required.  Therefore ‘standardised’ packaging is a more accurate way of describing packaging that has had the promotional aspects of brands removed.

Three months after the closure of the consultation the Government is under pressure to make a decision.  The tobacco industry is lobbying hard against the measure.  For example JTI (Gallaher) launched a £2m advertising campaign against the proposal and Philip Morris has engaged PR firm Luther Pendragon to lobby on the issue.

Public support for standardised packaging was already at a high level even before the commencement of the consultation.  A YouGov poll  commissioned by ASH revealed that when shown a plain standardised pack based  on the Australian design, 62% of UK adults said they would support the sale of tobacco in plain standardised packaging compared to just 11% who said they would oppose such as measure.  [2]

A systematic review of the evidence relating to standardised packaging was commissioned by the Department of Health and published by the Public Health Research Consortium (PHRC).

A commitment to examine the case for plain tobacco packaging was first included in the Labour government’s tobacco control strategy, ‘A smokefree Future’ published in February 2010.  This commitment was carried through by the Conservative-led Coalition government and published in its Tobacco Control Plan  (‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Tobacco Control Plan for England’ in March 2011).  The Government pledged to “look at whether the plain packaging of tobacco products could be effective in reducing the number of young people who take up smoking and in supporting adult smokers who want to quit.”


Fact not Fiction: The truth behind tobacco industry myths

Myth #1: There is no evidence plain packs will work

FACT: A large body of evidence demonstrates plain packaging would be effective. Peer reviewed studies from around the world consistently show that plain packs are less appealing, make health warnings more effective and reduce the ability of the packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking.

Myth #2: Tobacco smuggling will increase because plain packs are easily counterfeited

FACT: Existing packs are no obstacle to counterfeiting. There is no evidence that plain packaging will lead to an increase in the illicit trade in tobacco, thereby reducing legal sales. Tobacco packs are already easily counterfeited which is why the industry is required to put covert markings on all tobacco packs to distinguish between authentic and counterfeit packs. Plain packs may not have tobacco brand logos and colours but they will have all the health warnings and other markings required on current packs – so they will be no easier to counterfeit.  For more information see a new report published today (23rd November) by Cancer Research UK:

Myth #3: Plain packs will cause confusion and extra costs for small businesses

FACT: It’s no more difficult selling plain packs than branded packs. A number of tobacco industry funded reports such as one by the Rural Shops Alliance have claimed that transaction times will be significantly increased.  One estimate that it would take 45 seconds longer per sale was based on a survey of the opinions of just 6 tobacco retailers.

Objective research measuring over 5,000 transactions found that plain packs if anything reduced transaction times and selection errors. Retail sales will decline gradually but not overnight as the main impact will be on reducing uptake amongst young people not on current smokers, so shops will have time to adapt.

Myth #4: There is no public support for plain packs

FACT: Six out of ten people (62%) are in favour of plain standardised packaging for tobacco products, while only one in ten (11%) opposes the measure. Even among smokers, for every five who oppose it there are six who are in favour.

Myth #5: Plain packaging will breach intellectual property rights leading to compensation claims

FACT: The use of tobacco trademarks is already limited by law. All plain packaging does is limit the use of tobacco company trademarks. The government will not be acquiring trademarks or other property from the companies so compensation will not be due. International trade agreements do not create a right to use trademarks, and in any case, they allow for governments to implement measures to protect public health.

Myth #6: Tobacco is going to be put out of sight so we don’t need plain packs

FACT: Legislation already passed by parliament will put cigarette packs out of sight in shops, but once outside they will continue to work as the industry’s ‘silent salesman’ advertising brands and promoting smoking to children. Tobacco packs have been described as ‘badge products’ that become ‘mobile advertising for the brand’.

Myth #7: It may be tobacco today but other consumer products will follow

FACT: Tobacco is not like any other product, it is the only legal consumer product on the market which is lethal when used as intended. That is why the UK and over 170 other governments have signed up to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which places legal obligations on governments to strictly regulate tobacco products. Plain packs for tobacco will not therefore set a precedent for other consumer products.

(For a full list of references see the Smokefree Action Coalition website at:


Notes and Links

[1] Background to the Australian campaign for standardised tobacco packaging

The campaign for plain standardised packaging began in Australia in the 1990s following a resolution passed by the 7th World Conference on Tobacco or Health held in Perth, Australia in 1990 which urged all countries to include generic packaging in their tobacco control legislation.

The legislation was passed by the Australian Parliament on 21 November 2011 and was given Royal Assent on 1 December 2011.  The measure is part of the Australian Government’s strategy to reduce the adult daily smoking rate to 10 per cent by 2018.   Currently in Australia 16% of adults aged18 and over smoke daily.

The legislation consists of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 and the Trade Mark Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Act 2011.

The legislation was challenged by the tobacco industry on the grounds that it infringed companies’ intellectual property rights, in essence, arguing that the Government had “appropriated” their property.  However, this argument was rejected by the Australian High Court in August 2012. [3]

For further information see the latest information from the Australian Government’s Dept of Health and Ageing website:

Minister for Health’s press release following ruling by High Court rejecting tobacco industry challenge. 15 Aug. 2012

Australian High Court ruling:

For mock up images from the Australian Health Department’s website see:

A time-line of the campaign for plain packaging in Australia produced by Prof. Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney

[2]   Opinion research from YouGov. Total sample size was 10000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th February and 16th March 2012. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all England adults (aged 18+). Question asked of respondents: The image above is an example of a ‘plain standardised pack’ based on Australian legislation passed last year (Source: ASH, 2012). Thinking about the packaging above, to what extent would you support or oppose the following? Requiring tobacco to be sold in plain standardised packaging with the product name in standard lettering.

Respondents were shown the following image: