Media Briefing: Standardised Packaging of Cigarettes and Tobacco Products

Monday 23 June 2014

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PLEASE NOTE: Standardised packs are NOT plain white packs [1]
They carry graphic and text health warnings as above


1.    On 3rd April, the Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison MP, said in responding to the Chantler review of standardised packaging, 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”.[2] Nearly three months later, the draft Regulations on standardised packaging have still to be published and will need to be published imminently to meet the Minister’s preferred timetable and be voted on in Parliament before the 2015 General Election.


2.    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 25 MPs voted against), following a strong cross-Party campaign in support of the policy. [3]

3.    On 28th November 2013, the Government announced that it had appointed the eminent paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler to conduct an independent review into the public health impact of the standardised packaging of cigarettes and tobacco products. The Chantler Review reported on 3rd April 2014. Sir Cyril concluded that:  “…there is enough evidence to say that standardised packaging is very likely to contribute to a modest but important reduction in smoking… Given the dangers of smoking, the suffering that it causes, the highly addictive nature of nicotine, the fact that most smokers become addicted when they are children or young adults and the overall cost to society, the importance of such a reduction should not be underestimated.” [4]Jane Ellison MP, Minister for Public Health said that the report found standardised packaging was “very likely to have a positive impact” on public health. She went on to say: “In the light of the report and the responses to the previous consultation in 2012, I am minded to proceed with introducing regulations to provide for standardised packaging”and that she wished to “proceed as swiftly as possible”. She also reported that the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, had written to her supporting the conclusion of the Chantler review and supporting the introduction of standardised packaging. [5]

4.    Ministers have said that the consultation period on the draft Regulations will last for six weeks. The Government will then have to notify the European Union of the draft Regulations. This process can take up to six months. [6] Therefore, time is now short if Parliament is to get the opportunity to vote on the Regulations before the General Election. [7]

5.    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.

Children and Smoking

6.    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]

7.    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. [9] Smoking rates are particularly high among vulnerable groups, including children in care. [10],[11]

8.    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. The importance of the pack as a communication tool is acknowledged by the tobacco industry, as the response from Philip Morris International to the Government’s consultation on the future of tobacco control illustrates. The response stated that: “as an integral part of the product, packaging is an important means of differentiating brands and in that sense is a means of communicating to consumers about what brands are on sale and in particular the goodwill associated with our trademarks, indicating brand value and quality. Placing trademarks on packaged goods is, thus, at the heart of commercial expression.” [12]

Public Health Evidence for Standardised Packs

9.    Evidence for the public health benefits of standardised packaging was considered by the Chantler Review. 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” [13] 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 persuaded that branded packaging plays an important role in encouraging young people to smoke and in consolidating the habit irrespective of the intentions of the industry. Although I have not seen evidence that allows me to quantify the size of the likely impact of standardised packaging, 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.” [14]

Tobacco Industry Response

10.  The tobacco industry has already spent millions of pounds trying to block standardising packaging. It is now gearing up for a last ditch effort to oppose the Regulations.

11.  The pro-smoking group FOREST, which receives virtually all its funding from the tobacco industry, have hired the marketing agency Kreate to collect “digital signatures” for the “Hands off Our Packs” petition to the Prime Minister. Kreate describes itself as “an experiential agency that specialises in the delivery and staffing of face-to-face experiences”. Agencies have also been commissioned directly by BAT to run a six week, “anti-plain packs roadshow”, aiming to sign up 100,000 people to oppose plain packs. The company is reported to have allocated £500,000 to the activity. Over 100 people a day will be working on this campaign.

12.  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. [15]

13.  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 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. [16]

14.  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). Jane Ellison, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, has stated that: “On standardised packaging and illicit tobacco, some 21% of the UK’s cigarette market was illicit in 2000. Latest estimates from HMRC for 2012-13 suggest that that proportion has dropped to around 9%. Enforcement is having a real impact on illicit tobacco and we want to see the figure fall still further… I am grateful to those hon. Members who have made the point that if we were to adopt standardised packaging, it would not mean plain packaging. Approaches such as anti-smuggling devices could be built into standardised packaging, if we choose to go down that route.” [17]

15.  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]”. [18]

16.  The Australian Government and customs officials have rejected tobacco industry claims that illicit trade in Australia has risen since the introduction of standardised packaging. [19]

17On 11th June 2014, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has published a report on the illicit tobacco trade. [20] The Committee reported that: “We believe that the decision on standardised packaging should be driven by health reasons and the imperative need to reduce the numbers of young people who start smoking. We note the statement of Sir Cyril Chantler to the effect that he was not convinced that standardised packaging would bring about an increase in the illicit market; even if this were the case, we believe that the proper response would be a more vigorous effort on enforcement rather than any lessening in the Government’s drive towards introducing standardised packaging.” (paragraph 44)

Standardised Packaging has Public Support

18.  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. [21] It 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. 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 age groups, genders and social classes. [22]

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.

[1] See the Annex to this note for details of what standardised packaging must include, under the EU Tobacco Products Directive, which comes into force in May 2016.

[3] Text of Children and Families Act 2014: Royal Assent on 13th March 2014

[4] Quote from Review press release(pdf) (full report)

[7] It is likely that MPs will be offered a free vote on the Regulations

[8] Smoking and Young People, ASH Fact Sheet, July 2013

[9] Smoking statistics: Illness and death, ASH Fact Sheet, April 2013

[10] Mooney A, Statham J, Monck E, Chambers H. Promoting the Health of Looked After Children, A Study to Inform Revision of the 2002 Guidance Research report by the Thomas Coram Research Unit Institute of Education, University of London, and National Children’s Bureau, (for the Department for Children, Schools and Families). June 2009

[11] Also see: Joint statement of the Smokefree Action Coalition and the Fostering Network on smoking and foster care. November 2009

[13]Moodie C, Stead M, Bauld L, McNeill A, Angus K, Hinds K, Kwan I, Thomas J, Hasting G, O’Mara-Eves A (2012), Plain Tobacco Packaging: A Systematic Review. Available from: The University of Stirling.

[14] Sir Cyril Chantler, Independent Review into standardised packaging of tobacco, King’s College London

[16] Tobacco facts and figures: Australian Department of Health

[17] Hansard: backbench business debate. 7 November 2013 column 477

[18] Oral evidence to the House of Lords European Union Sub Committee (Home Affairs) on 24th July 2013.

[19] See p.48 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Australian Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2014 and p.6 of Sir Cyril Chantler’s report.

[22] 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 standardised pack could look like, including larger health warnings as in Australia.