Evidence grows that standardised “plain” tobacco packaging reduces smoking rates

Thursday 27th April

• New international evidence review finds it likely that standard packaging policies reduce rates of smoking despite limited available research and only one country with the policy fully in place
• Full UK implementation will be complete on 21st May 2017 with long term impacts expected on youth smoking rates over the coming decade
• Early signs in the UK look promising ahead of full implementation as data from the North East shows impact on current smokers

With just one month to go before all tobacco is sold in unattractive new “plain” standardised packs, a new evidence review finds they are likely to drive down smoking rates.

A Cochrane review [1] has today been published examining the impact of standardising tobacco packaging on smoking rates [2]. Cochrane is widely recognised as the gold standard for assessing the impact of health interventions so it is significant that this review finds that implementing the policy is likely to lead to reductions in smoking rates. Standardised packaging has to date has only been fully implemented in Australia [3] and is intended to reduce the appeal of cigarettes discouraging young people from starting and supporting smokers who want to quit.

Standardised packaging legislation came into force in the UK in May 2016 with retailers being given a year to sell through old stock. From 21st May 2017 onwards 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. [4]

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.

Packs started appearing in the shops last summer, and now very few non-standardised packs are still available for sale. [5] New data in the North East has found that the new packs are having an impact on smokers. Of 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 [6]

These early findings are in keeping with what was seen in Australia following introduction of standard packs. [7]

Retailers are also seeing an impact on customers. Newcastle-based small retailer John McClurey [image available] 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.”


Notes and Links

Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. You can view more information about ASH here.

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

[1] Press release available from Cochrane and live here from Thursday 27th 2017

[2] Cochrane produces systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy. These are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care resources.

[3] More information in the ASH briefing on Standard Packs

[4] More information about regulations here

[5] See Tesco’s online for packs currently on sale

[6] North East Illegal Tobacco Survey – independent survey by NEMS. Standard packs question asked of current smokers who have seen standardised packaging: (1550 people, Fieldwork conducted February 2017)

[7] Australian post implementation review

Contact: Deborah Arnott 020 7404 0242 (w) or 07976 935 987 (m)