Posted by: Sheila Duffy ASHS | April 24, 2012

The research supports plain packaging, the public support plain packaging – let’s get on with it

The Government consultation on plain packaging for tobacco products has been published, and the public battle of ideas has begun.

On one side we have the tobacco industry, and the various groups and individuals who speak on their behalf. With their usual inconsistent approach to messages they insist that there is no evidence that plain packaging will work, while in the next breath alarming nervous retailers that this could mean the end for their business. They are also shouting from the rooftops that plain packaging would be a gift for counterfeiters, as unmarked boxes are easy to reproduce.

Of course the reality is that “plain” packaging is not simply plain. The term refers to removing branding, corporate logos and fancy designs from tobacco packaging. A glance at the design used in Australia, which retains pictorial health warnings and security/duty paid markings shows that these should not be significantly easier to copy, or to print, than the existing branded packs. Industry warnings about counterfeiting, or printing job losses, are unfounded – which is presumably why trading standards and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs expressed no concerns.

A systematic review of the proper, academic evidence on plain packaging was published alongside the consultation. Produced by Stirling University researchers, this review considered 37 published studies and concluded “that plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products; it would increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages; and it would reduce the use of design techniques that may mislead consumers about the harmfulness of tobacco products.”

In addition a new YouGov opinion poll suggests strong public support in Scotland for plain packaging. The poll was based on a survey of 1055 adults in Scotland and found that:

  • Amongst non and ex-smokers: 69% support plain packaging and 8% oppose
  • Amongst smokers: 42% support plain packaging and 21% oppose
  • Overall  64% in Scotland support plain packaging while 11% oppose

There is clear support for plain packaging from academic researchers, public health professionals and the Scottish public. We at ASH Scotland believe that the debate over the evidence for plain packaging has been settled and that plain packaging will make tobacco products less appealing to young people, resulting in a slow decline in smoking rates as fewer young people are recruited to replace those who quit or who die. The fact that the tobacco companies are so worried suggests that they think so too.

The Government consultation now provides the ideal opportunity to demonstrate that public and political support exists.  All those who value healthy lives for our youth above the tobacco industry’s desire to market its lethal, addictive products can join the tens of thousands already showing their support at



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