The government intends to introduce from May 2016 standardised (or ‘Plain’) packaging for all tobacco products. This move would see all tobacco products packaged in identical, drab coloured packets dominated by large pictorial and textual health warnings.
The Government is pressing ahead with its proposals for plain packaging, despite the facts that:
- there is no credible evidence to support the view that “plain packs” would stop young people from taking up smoking or encourage adult smokers to quit;
- successive rounds of public consultation have all rejected the proposals by an overwhelming majority;
- all the leading business and retail groups are strongly opposed to the proposals as they understand the damage they would inflict on small business and the High Street;
- this would be introduced on top of the display ban, even though the effect of the ban has not been evaluated and there are no plans to do so.
Plain packaging would be a real headache for retailers and adult smokers. All current branding would be removed, so the only way to tell different brands and ranges apart will be by reading small, text labels on the packs. This will make it more difficult for all retailers and customers to easily and accurately identify the tobacco products they are handling – let alone anyone with visual, language or learning difficulties.
Australia is the only country that has introduced plain packaging so far. It seems that after two years of plain packaging:
- youth smoking rates have not declined. In fact they are now at a 7-year high;
- tobacco sales have not declined. In fact, the number of smokers consuming more than 11 cigarettes a day has increased;
- the more prominent health warnings, have not become ‘more effective’ following the introduction of plain packaging; and
- the illegal trade in tobacco products has increased from 11.8% of total consumption in 2012, to 14.7% in 2014 – a rise of almost 25%. The illegal tobacco trade causes a loss of tax revenues, a loss of shop sales and a loss of control over youngsters’ access to tobacco products. Criminals don’t act responsibly like retailers do. So young people will have even greater access to cheap, illegal tobacco, which they will be able to buy with “no questions asked”.
The evidence currently available suggests that Australia’s plain packaging policy has failed. If plain packs were introduced in the UK, they would be a devastating blow to retailers, consumers and would undermine measures to prevent under age young people from accessing tobacco products.