What's going on with cigarette packets as menthol cigarettes are banned from 2020

Department of Health images of how standardised packaging may look

After years of discussions, a new law on "plain" cigarette packages is coming in on Friday.

It will mean an end to white packs with company logos in the UK.

Four of the world's biggest tobacco firms wanted the plans overruled at the last minute.

They took legal action at the High Court in London but have lost their case, which means they'll have to stop making their old cigarette packaging from Friday.

But they'll still have a year to sell any they've already produced.

What the packs would look like

You've seen the picture at the top. So, they'll be a darker olive green colour. It's thought that implies more harm.

Cigarette packaging

There'll be no more company logos either. Instead the brand name and make will be in a standard font.

Menthol fags are being banned

In a separate EU law coming in on Friday, new packs will also have to have extra health warnings on the top.

Promotional statements like "free of additives" or "less harmful than other brands" will also be banned.

And picture warnings will have to cover 65% of the front and back of every new packet.

Smoking picture warning for cigarette packs
Image caption You'll be seeing more of picture warnings like these

You'll also say goodbye to packs of 10.

The smallest you'll be able to buy will have 20 cigarettes, or 30g of rolling tobacco, so there's enough room for warnings.

Plus there'll be new rules on the amount and strength of liquid allowed in e-cigarettes and herbal products.

It all becomes law on Friday, but again, companies will have a year before having to comply.

Under the same law, menthol cigarettes and skinny "lipstick-style" cigarettes will become a thing of the past in the UK by 2020.

Menthol cigarettes

They're seen as appealing to young people and wrongfully being viewed as less harmful.

Manufacturers had already lost their legal challenges over those changes in the EU's highest court.

Haven't we been hearing about plain packaging for ages?

Yes, there's been a long battle to get to this point. The government announced it was thinking about standardised packaging in 2011.

It did a consultation on it the next year but then ministers seemed to go cool on the idea.

That led to accusations they'd been influenced by the tobacco industry. But then another review of the public health benefits was ordered.

Last year it claimed the plan was "very likely" to lead to a "modest but important reduction" in smoking.

Smoking picture warning for cigarette packs

Why?

Ten million adults are smokers in the UK, despite smoking being the biggest cause of early deaths.

And more than 600 children aged 11 to 15 start to smoke every day. That's more than 200,000 a year.

Last year's review says if that number could be cut even by 2%, 4,000 a year fewer would take up the habit.

Some estimates suggest cigarettes kill 100,000 people in Britain each year.

Research claims standardised packaging makes them less appealing and helps reinforce health messages - so cancer charities are backing the plans.

Australia's had unbranded packs since 2012
Image caption Australia's had unbranded packs since 2012

Ireland passed a similar law last year and Australia's had plain packaging since 2012.

Obviously the tobacco industry isn't happy

The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association argues there's a "complete lack of evidence" plain packaging will put smokers off.

They say the move will destroy their highly valuable property rights (to use their logos) and mean brands will be practically unrecognisable from each other.

They think it breaches several UK and EU laws and is "disproportionate" to the risk of smoking. Some claim it could also make selling counterfeit cigarettes easier.

Another hit for tobacco firms

Cigarette firms have faced tough rules on advertising for many years and have had to carry health warnings since the 1970s.

But in the last decade, smoking's been banned in public places, picture warnings have been brought in on packs and shops have had to stop displaying cigarettes.

Last year, a ban on smoking in cars with children came in too.

The smokers' lobby group Forest says: "Consumers are fed up being patronised by politicians of all parties.

"Smokers know there are health risks associated with tobacco. Plain packaging won't make any difference.

"What next? Standardised packaging for alcohol and sugary drinks?"

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