Branded packs are the last form of tobacco marketing. They act as mobile billboards that are visible every time a smoker reaches for a cigarette. Research shows that children are especially vulnerable and find colourful and glitzy packaging appealing, tempting them to smoke. Removing the promotional aspects of tobacco from packs would make the health warnings more prominent, stop people thinking that certain brands are less hazardous than others, and dissuade children from starting to smoke. The Australian High Court ruling establishes an important principle – that governments can, and should, implement measures to protect the health of citizens by removing all forms of tobacco promotion, including on the packs. Where Australia leads, other countries will follow. Now the UK government’s consultation on plain packaging has closed, the UK is well placed to be next.
Amanda Sandford is research manager at Action on Smoking and Health.
Plain packaging is based on the fallacy that children find so-called “glitzy” packaging appealing and, with cigarettes in dull, drab packs fewer young people will be tempted to start smoking. Yet there is no credible evidence to support this suggestion. Instead, the removal of branding could affect thousands of retailers, who may lose business to the uncontrolled black market. It could cost jobs in graphic design, paper production and packaging. Over 235,000 people have signed the Hands Off Our Packs petition against plain packaging. There is also opposition from retailers, shop workers and police officers who are concerned about counterfeiting and the sale of illicit tobacco that standard packs will undoubtedly encourage. Any sensible government would wait and assess the impact of plain packaging in Australia before adopting the same, potentially reckless, policy in the UK. Hopefully common sense will prevail.
Simon Clark is director of the smokers’ group Forest.