New restrictions on tobacco products come into full force on 21st May 2017

12th April 2017

At 12am on 21st May 2017 the revised Tobacco Products Directive 2014[1] comes into full effect alongside the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Product Regulations 2015[2]. This means that all cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco sold in the UK must be sold in standardised “plain” packaging and comply with EU rules that include larger health warnings and an end to 10 packs. The new regulations came into force May 2016 but manufacturers and retailers have had a one year to allow them to replace non-compliant stock items.

Both EU and UK regulations are intended reduce smoking uptake by young people and support attempts by adults to quit. Big tobacco companies fought tooth and nail against the new regulations at every stage of the process. In the UK the tobacco companies have been dismissed at every stage of the legal challenge against standardised packs with the final decision coming from the Supreme Court on 11th April 2017 who refused them permission to appeal.

The UK is only the second country in the world to implement standard packaging following Australia in 2012. This, alongside a range of other policy measures the UK has taken in recent years, has put us at the top of the European league table for tobacco policy as announced in March this year[3].

Welcoming these changes, Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH, said:

“In the UK we have among the fastest declining smoking rates in the world thanks to decades of sound policy. We now lead the way in Europe. We must not rest on our achievements, though. The Government needs to publish a new tobacco control plan so we can capitalise on this unique moment.”

Standardised packaging legislation was passed with overwhelming support from MPs in March 2015[4]. The standardisation includes:

• Material, size, shape and opening mechanism of the packaging
• The colour of packaging and cigarettes
• The font, colour, size, case and alignment of text.

The EU Tobacco Products Directive also:

• Requires a combination of picture and text health warnings to cover 65% of the front and back of cigarette and hand-rolling tobacco packages
• Health warnings must appear at the top of the packet
• Certain promotional and misleading descriptors on tobacco product packaging are prohibited. This includes terms such as “lite”, “natural” and “organic
• Cigarettes are to be sold in minimum pack sizes of 20 sticks. Hand-rolling tobacco packets are to be a minimum of 30 grams.
• Prohibits cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco with characterising flavours, such as fruits or chocolate. Menthol tobacco and cigarettes will be prohibited from 20th May 2020,
• Introduce EU-wide tracking and tracing to combat the illicit trade of tobacco products. This will apply from 20th May 2019 for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. It will apply to all other tobacco products from 20th May 2024.

Although the impact of standard packaging on youth smoking is likely to take years to be realised early evidence from Australia shows that this policy has great promise. In the Australian government’s 2016 Post Implementation Review[5] they noted that standardised packaging accounted for approximately a quarter of the decline in smoking prevalence in the three years since its introduction. Calls to Quitline services also increased dramatically, including a 78% increase in New South Wales[6].

The TPD also includes a number of regulations regarding electronic cigarettes. You can find more information in the ASH briefing on the impact of the EU Tobacco Products Directive on e-cigarette regulation in the UK (PDF)[7]


[4] Hansard. 11 March 2015: Column 379.
[6] Young J et al. Association between tobacco plain packaging and Quitline calls: A population-based, interrupted time-series analysis. Medical Journal of Australia 2014; 200(1): 29-32

A fully detailed briefing about standardised packaging for tobacco products is available here