Australia leads the world with standardised packaging for tobacco products. Will the UK be next?

Friday 30 November 2012

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

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.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, commented:
“Australia deserves the thanks of everyone concerned about the public health disaster that is smoking, for introducing plain standardised packaging and leading the way for the rest of the world.

The tobacco industry is terrified of the removal of the last vestiges of advertising from their products and is spending millions of pounds in the UK to fight the measure.

We trust our Government will calmly review the evidence and not be swayed by the distorted misinformation put out by the tobacco industry and its allies.” [3]


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] Developments in the UK
The UK’s public consultation on tobacco packaging closed 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. 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).

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.

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:


[3] Rebuttals to tobacco industry arguments against plain packaging can be viewed at: