Cigarette packaging: Ministers launch fresh review


Dr Peter Mackereth said brightly-coloured cigarette packaging was a form of ''silent advertising'' for smoking

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The government has announced an independent review of cigarette packaging in England, amid calls for action to discourage young smokers.

David Cameron appeared to distance himself from uniform packaging in July, saying further evidence was needed to show whether it would be effective.

But Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said it was now time to "examine the emerging evidence" on a policy shift.

Labour said immediate action was needed, "not another review".

In a Commons statement, Ms Ellison said standardised tobacco packaging would be brought in after the review if "we are satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to proceed, including public health benefit".

The review, led by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler, is set to focus on a pilot scheme in Australia, which became the first country to legislate for standardised packaging in 2011.

It is not really surprising that the government is looking again at the issue of plain packaging for cigarettes.

Out of the two high profile public health measures it championed after the election - minimum alcohol pricing was the other - plain packaging always seemed the more natural fit.

Over the years tougher and tougher measures have been introduced to discourage smoking from bans in public places to forcing shops to sell tobacco products under the counter.

So what has changed? Australia still remains the only country in the world to have introduced unbranded packaging.

But early evidence suggests it was effective.

A study in the state of Victoria found that, not only did it make smokers more likely to think about quitting, it also worked subconsciously - smokers felt the cigarettes were of poorer quality.

For Labour, shadow public health minister Luciana Berger demanded to know why the government was delaying the introduction of plain packaging "still further" having already held a consultation on the issue in 2012.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband added: "The government should have introduced plain packaging earlier this year - we want them to act swiftly, we want them to act now. We don't need another review.

"Every major public health expert agrees this would help the battle against cancer, against young people taking up smoking."

The government has never officially ruled out changes to cigarette packaging laws, but BBC political editor Nick Robinson said that private briefings from Downing Street had previously suggested the idea was "dead".

He said ministers were likely to have been defeated on Lords amendments to the Children and Families Bill, which enjoyed cross-party support, and would have given the government the power to regulate cigarette packaging.

Ms Ellison confirmed that the government would table its own amendment to the legislation, giving ministers the power to introduce regulations "quickly" when Sir Cyril's review is complete in March 2014 - if they decide to proceed with the policy.

'Rise in counterfeiting'

She rejected suggestions the rethink had been prompted by fears of defeat in the Lords, saying: "It's a year this weekend since the legislation was introduced in Australia. It's the right time to ask people to look at this.

"This is fundamentally about children's health. Two thirds of people start smoking when they're children and it's one of the most important public health issues we face in this country."

"This is what cigarette packets have looked like in Australia since last year", reports Ross Hawkins

A study conducted in Australia found that smokers using standardised plain brown packets were 81% more likely to consider quitting.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the government had an "open mind" on the review, and "personally" he hoped it would show that plain packaging was effective.

But UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall accused Mr Cameron of "scandalously auctioning off the freedom and liberty of the British people for his own political ends, cheered on by the Labour Party".

Branded cigarette packs help smokers avoid buying counterfeit products, suggests cigar-smoking Tory MP Robert Halfon

Cigarette firm British American Tobacco (BAT), which owns brands including Benson & Hedges and Dunhill, said the Australian experiment had "failed" to achieve its public health objectives.

"The evidence shows that the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products has coincided with an increase in illicit trade," leading to increased profits for "criminals selling black-market tobacco", it argued.

Why olive-coloured packaging?

In a 2011 debate in the Australian parliament, Labor Party MP Mike Symon explained that the proposed plain-packaging legislation would "mandate that the brand name is in a standard colour, position, font size and style and that the packaging will be a standard drab dark brown or olive colour".

"Consumers tend to perceive white and lighter colours as being healthier," he continued.

"Research shows that adults and adolescents in scientifically controlled studies perceive cigarettes in plain packs to be less appealing, less palatable, less satisfying and of lower quality compared to cigarettes in current packaging."

Labour has sought to link Conservative election chief Lynton Crosby's work as a consultant for the tobacco industry to delays in the policy, a claim which was rejected by David Cameron at the time the issue was put on hold in July.

The ban on images on packaging came into force in Australia on 1 January after a long-running legal battle between the former Labor government and the tobacco industry.

Manufacturers claimed the law was unconstitutional and infringed on their intellectual property rights by banning the use of brands and trademarks.

But they said they would comply after the legality of the measure was upheld by the country's highest court.

Cancer Research UK said a move to plain packaging would "save thousands of lives".

"Stopping cigarettes being marketed to children as a glamorous and desirable accessory is one of the greatest gifts we can give the next generation," it added.

More than 450 doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals have signed an open letter saying they also "welcome" the move.

"Cigarette packs are now the key marketing tool employed by the tobacco industry to attract and retain customers," they wrote.

"There is no time to lose and Parliament must act now to protect children from the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry."

The Scottish government has said it is "still committed" to introducing standardised packaging, while New Zealand is also considering the move.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    @878.One of the idle poor
    "No insurance company should pay out on a policy where the life covered was a smoker's."
    Insurance companies love smokers. If you're a 100 a day man, and live on kebabs and Big Macs, they will stampede to your door to offer you good rates on a pension annuity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 973.

    Sweden has the lowest number of smokers in the EU. They managed this without the need for plain packaging. They just allowed smokeless snus to co-exist on the market. The rest of Europe including the UK has banned snus and see higher numbers.

    So to all you anti-smoking zealots out there, get real, the problem isn't with smokers but the governments who ban anything that reduces the number smoking

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    Oh shut up!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    Re. comments about the cost to the NHS of treating smokers, they pay more in taxes vis duty on cigs and die sooner on average, so costing the NHS less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    No blog allowed on the Spanish PM's comment on Scotland joining the European Union! Just more BBC scare mongering me thinks!

    Every country will say YES to Scotland joining

    The EU treaties mean Scotland can't be refused, the most other countries can do is delay entry, any european country which fufils certain criteria has the right to join

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    Alcohol and Cigarettes are not the same thing ........ excessive alcohol is dangerous, but all Cigarettes are dangerous .......... smoking is an automatic addiction, drinking is not an automatic addiction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    How much hard working taxpayers money is yet another review going to cost.
    Seems that it's the same set of expensive, high powered cronies getting paid to sit on 'reviews' and 'enquiries' whose decisions are completely unbinding.
    Is Cameron just keeping his cronies and his special adviser's ex employers sweet and leaving it to the 'next goverment' to make a decision.
    Rich giving rich jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    It has nothing to with you how they spend their OWN money. And dont tar all smokers the same, many I know make sure they smoke nowhere near others! But then again I guess ALL drinkers are yobs, ALL car drivers are boy racers, ALL people on benefits are cheats etc I could go on but are you seeing how pathetic you sound?

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.

    I guess it will cost just as much to produce the "plain packets" as it does the current branded packets. So the cigarette makers will not save money on marketing.
    If they are up in arms, at least they must be convinced that generic packaging will reduce sales. Lets at least have a trial run at this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    Working in a shop it's going to be murder finding right packet for customers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    "However, you do not have the right to harm me, my children or anybody else who doesn't smoke!"

    Fair enough - but please don't drive your car, or ride the bus, past my house or my children when they're walking to school. Fumes.... makes them cough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    946.Alan B
    5 Minutes ago
    Lets ban cars next?.Car exhaust fumes are many many more times dangerous then cigarettes but nobody tries to ban the motor car.


    Only people who want to die treat the exhaust fumes as smokers treat tobacco fumes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 962.

    Labour. Action is needed now. No, no its not. A review is fine. This is just pushing the line that the coalition have been dragging their feet with everything... rather than their initial line of getting things wrong. Maybe they could have backed something by the coalition since 2010 to help business and consumer confidence, but no, they did their best to keep it checked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 961.

    Can all those that keep mentioning tax revenue is more than NHS costs (which is true) also remember to mention the other costs such as cleaning up fag butts, social care costs, putting out fires, lost work days etc. as well.

    As you point out, you're entitled to smoke. I'm fine with that - but stop making out you're net contributers, 'cos you're not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 960.

    From all the comments on here, it is patently obvious that smokers don't give a toss for anyone else, but themselves.

    They've lost the medical argument and their self-respect. All they've gained is a nasty smell, stained fingers and diseased lungs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 959.

    875. Bob

    Smoking has no redeeming attributes. Many of the hydrocarbon-based products you mentioned are, at the moment, essential to our economy, way of life and civilisation.

    You will find that many of those, including me, who are against all but private smoking, are also very pro green solutions to transport, energy production and manufacturing.

    We want to reduce pollution, full stop!

  • rate this

    Comment number 958.

    185. Herbie

    You're probably right - but the real cost of banning tobacco will come in 20 years' time once all those healthy, clean-limbed ex-smokers start claiming their pensions...

    Our society's pension commitments are already unmeetable - why would the govt want to make them worse by giving up tax income now and provoking even longer lives in the future...? We can only afford dead citizens...

  • rate this

    Comment number 957.

    @948 James "What are fags giving you that's more important?"

    They provide much needed support in controlling my urge to physically assault the next "pretend cougher " that walks past .

  • rate this

    Comment number 956.

    Don't Smoke, Don't Care!

    Each to their own I say

  • rate this

    Comment number 955.

    More nannying for dumb British people.


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