Media advisory: Second anniversary of implementation of standardised tobacco packaging in Australia

Friday 28 November 2014

artist impression of a standardised pack

front                                      back


1. Monday 1st December 2014 marks the second 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.

2. In the UK, primary legislation has been passed to enable regulations to be implemented to introduce plain standardised packaging. On 3rd April, the Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison MP, said that she was minded to proceed and saw “no reason why the legislation could not be brought before the House before the end of this Parliament”. Draft Regulations have been published, consulted on, and notified to Europe – a six month process which ends on 2nd March 2015, in time for the regulations to be passed in advance of the 2015 General Election.


3. The Secretary of State has the power to make Regulations under Section 94 of the Children and Families Act 2014. This Section was passed overwhelmingly in both the House of Lords (nem con) and House of Commons (only 24 MPs voted against), following a strong cross-Party campaign in support of the policy. The consultation on the draft regulations ran from 26 June to 7th August. Shortly afterwards the Government notified Europe – this is a six month process which ends on 2nd March 2015. After this date, the regulations will be brought back to Parliament for a final vote.

4. The fundamental case for standardised packaging is very simple. Smoking tobacco is a lethal addiction. Cigarettes are the only legal products sold in the UK that kill their consumers when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. No company should be allowed to promote such a product through advertising and marketing. Children, and the most vulnerable groups of children in particular, need protection from the tobacco industry’s search for new addicts. Tobacco packaging should therefore be made as unattractive as possible.

5. But there continue to be rumours that the Government is nervous about bringing the Regulations on standardised packaging to Parliament for a vote before the next General Election. Although only a small minority of MPs are opposed to the policy, they are overwhelmingly on the right of the Conservative Party, and some are close to UKIP, the only UK political party to oppose standardised packaging (and all other important tobacco control legislation, including the ending of smoking in enclosed public places. Any bureaucratic delays could mean the Regulations running out of time in the Parliament.

What Will the Government Do Next?

6. First the UK Government favoured the policy, then dropped it in in July 2013, then re-introduced it in November 2013 after cross Party Parliamentary pressure, but is now being lobbied hard by the tobacco industry and its allies to drop it again). Is the Prime Minister about to make yet another u-turn on the issue?

Children and Smoking

7. Smoking is an addiction that begins in childhood. Among existing adult smokers, two thirds report that they began to smoke before the age of 18, and almost two fifths before the age of 16. Starting to smoke is associated with a range of risk factors, including smoking by parents and siblings, smoking by friends, the ease of obtaining cigarettes, exposure to tobacco marketing, and depictions of smoking in films, TV and other media.

8. The tobacco industry needs these new smokers as its existing customers quit, become ill or die prematurely. Half of all lifetime smokers will die from smoking related disease, about 100,000 people across the UK every year. Smoking rates are particularly high among vulnerable groups, including children in care.

9. Smokers display tobacco branding every time they take out their pack to smoke. In doing so they are making a statement about how they want to be seen by others as they display and endorse the brand they have chosen.

Public Health Evidence for Standardised Packs

10. Evidence for the public health benefits of standardised packaging was considered by the pediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler in a Review commissioned by the Government. The Report’s summary of Findings stated that:

Paragraph 11. “There have been a large number of studies which have tested the possible effect of standardised packaging using mock-ups of standardised packaging to see how smokers and potential smokers react to them. The Department of Health commissioned a systematic review of these studies known as the “Stirling Review” which concluded that:

• Standardised packaging is less appealing than branded packaging;
• Graphic and text health warnings are more credible and memorable on standardised packaging than when juxtaposed with attractive branding;
• Whereas colours and descriptors on branded packaging confuse smokers into falsely perceiving some products as lighter and therefore “healthier”, products in standardised packages are more likely to be perceived as harmful.”

Paragraph 18. “Having reviewed the evidence it is in my view highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking and implausible that it would increase the consumption of tobacco… I am satisfied that the body of evidence shows that standardised packaging, in conjunction with the current tobacco control regime, is very likely to lead to a modest but important reduction over time on the uptake and prevalence of smoking and thus have a positive impact on public health.”

Tobacco Industry Response

11. The tobacco industry in Australia has reported an increase in tobacco sales from 21.015bn sticks in 2012 to 21.074bn in 2013, and the industry and its front groups in the UK claimed that this showed standardised packaging was not working. Although the industry report a small (0.28%) increase in sales year on year, they do not report the increase in the Australian population between 2012 and 2013. Adjusted for population, tobacco sales per person have in fact fallen, from 920.4 in 2012 to 906.9 in 2013.

12. Responding to Australian media coverage of the tobacco industry’s claims, the Australian Government’s Department of Health has released figures showing that total consumption of tobacco and cigarettes in Australia in the March quarter of 2014 was the lowest ever recorded, as measured by estimated expenditure on tobacco products:

• $5.135 billion in September 1959;
• $3.508 billion in December 2012 (when standardised packaging was introduced); and
• $3.405 billion in March 2014.

Figures from the Australian Treasury show that tobacco clearances (including excise and customs duty) fell by 3.4% in 2013 relative to 2012 when tobacco plain packaging was introduced. Clearances are an indicator of tobacco volumes in the Australian market.

13. The tobacco industry has claimed that standardised packaging will lead to an increase in illicit trade. The Chantler Review concluded that there was no good evidence for this claim. All the key security features on existing packs of cigarettes would also be present on standardised packs (including coded numbering and covert anti-counterfeit marks). Andrew Leggett, Deputy Director for Tobacco and Alcohol Strategy at HM Revenue and Customs has said about standardised packaging that “We’re very doubtful that it would have a material effect [on counterfeiting and the illicit trade in tobacco]”.

14. The Australian Government and customs officials have rejected tobacco industry claims that illicit trade in Australia has risen since the introduction of standardised packaging.

Standardised Packaging has Public Support

15. Standardised packaging is backed by the Smokefree Action Coalition, an alliance of over 250 organisations including medical Royal Colleges and other medical organisations, health and children’s charities, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Trading Standards Institute and others. It is also popular with the public. A poll on the issue by YouGov, conducted for ASH in March 2014, found that overall 64% of adults in Great Britain were in favour of standardised packaging. There was majority support across age groups, genders and social classes.

16. A recent study found that since standardised packaging was introduced in Australia, smokers’ support for the measure has risen sharply from 28.2% prior to its introduction to 49% after implementation.

Annex: Details of Standardised Packs

The earliest standardised packaging is likely to come into force is spring 2016. It will have to conform to EU mandated health warnings under the Tobacco Products Directive, which come into force in May 2016. Under these rules:

• the health warnings on the front and back and any outside packaging must be 65% of the total area [Article 10.1.(c)]
• Health warnings on the front and back must be at the top of the pack and include picture and text warnings as required by the Directive.
• Text messages on front and back have been revised for full list see appendix 1 on page 34 of the Directive. Text messages on the front and back also need to include smoking cessation information [Article 10 1. (b)]
• All health warnings (both on front and back and lateral surfaces) must be surrounded by a black border of a width of 1mm inside the surface area. [Article 8.6]
• The tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide yields on the sides of packs have been replaced by health warnings on the bottom part of the lateral sides of the packs with a width of not less than 20 mm and a height not less than 16mm to cover 50% of the surfaces on which they’re printed [Article 9 3.] and printed in black Helvetica bold type on a white background (Article 9 4.(a)a general warning on one side which is ‘Smoking Kills – quit now’ [Article 9 1.] on one side and an information message on the other ‘Tobacco smoke contains over 70 substances known to cause cancer’. [Article 9 2.]
• Other information required on the pack is proof that tax has been paid and overt (and covert) markings as proof of authenticity.

The colour used on the sample pack shown in this Briefing is that required by the Australian legislation: Pantone 448C.