How plain packaging on cigarettes will work

Martin Dockrell, policy and campaigns manager for Action on Smoking and Health, explains how plain packaging on cigarettes will work.

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Martin Dockrell is the policy and campaigns manager for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

Andrew Lansley opens a consultation today on plain standardised packaging for the tobacco industry, picking up a proposal first mooted by Alan Johnson when he was Labour’s Secretary of State for Health. It is no surprise Labour’s front bench team have been enthusiastic in support.

Cigarette-packetLabour’s previous consultation received almost 100,000 responses: 98% of those responding on plain packaging supported the measure and analysis of the handful of opponents showed many had undisclosed links to the tobacco industry.

Nonetheless, the Labour government felt more evidence was needed to justify action. Since then the research has piled in.

A study recently published by Action on Smoking and Health was one among many to show:

Plain packaging reduces misleading messages to smokers (light coloured packs used to be used for “light” and “mild” cigarettes and although labelling them as such is now illegal, smokers still think cigarettes in light coloured packs are less harmful;

Plain packaging gives greater impact to health warnings;

• Most important of all, plain packs are much less attractive to young people.

As with Labour’s tobacco advertising ban almost a decade ago, adult smokers will not have their choice constrained – any who want to will continue to buy their favourite brand, and, as with the advertising ban, we can expect to see a steady reduction in the numbers of young people starting to smoke. The only people who will be constrained will be the tobacco manufacturers.


See also:

The Mail’s rent-a-rev called for gays to be tattooed with health warnings 27 Oct 2011

Happy smoking ban day everybody! – don’t believe big tobacco’s corporate spin 30 Jun 2011

Is Big Tobacco blowing smoke in Cameron’s eyes? 10 Jun 2011

Government is right to take action on tobacco packaging 9 Mar 2011

Limiting child access to cigarettes – Coalition must enforce health act 9 Nov 2010


Australia has already passed a similar law and will implement it by the end of the year. Needless to say the tobacco industry fought it tooth and nail.

The so-called Alliance of Australian Retailers pumped $5 million into an ad campaign against the legislation and even ran election time TV ads against Australia’s Labor Party but it was soon discovered that it was the tobacco manufacturers who were paying the bills.

Industry disinformation failed to convince the Australian electorate and legislators. Big Tobacco lost in parliament and is now trying to use trade agreements to over-rule the health policy of a sovereign government.

Their favourite ploy is to claim plain packs will be easier to counterfeit. In fact, existing packs are no obstacle to counterfeiters. The truly effective way of stopping fakes is to have invisible marks on the packs, which the industry already does. These already exist and will continue.

It is no surprise they are fighting so hard. Market failure has made UK tobacco companies among the most profitable in the country. Just two companies hold 84% of the UK market and one of them – Imperial Tobaccomade more than £3bn profit on just less than £7bn tobacco revenues.

The industry knows one cigarette is much like another and in blind tests smokers struggle to tell them apart. That makes packaging key to these huge profits because it allows manufacturers to sell premium brands at close to £8 per pack while using the excess profits to cross-subsidise “value brands”, selling for less than £5.50.

That way they reduce the incentive for poorer smokers who want to quit. Companies may blame the chancellor for the cost of smoking but every time the tax goes up they take a little extra for themselves.

The reason all this matters for the left is the main function of the tobacco market is to redistribute wealth away from the nation’s poorest families in favour of the City’s most profitable companies. And the poor pay for smoking in more ways than one: smoking rates are so much higher among poorer communities that half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest is down to smoking alone.

But poor smokers can leap the health gap by quitting. The poorest non-smokers have a better life expectancy than the richest smokers and research by Professor Robert West shows poorer smokers are just as likely to want to quit as rich ones. They are just as likely to try to quit too but they are half as likely to quit successfully.

Will health campaigners succeed this time when we failed under Labour? Not only is the evidence out there now, but popular support has grown. Annual polls show support had been growing gradually since 2008.

This year we changed the question, showing people what a “plain pack” might look like and support leapt up to 62% while opposition melted away to 11%. Even among smokers, for every five who thought it was a bad idea we found six who supported it.


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43 Responses to “How plain packaging on cigarettes will work”

  1. Nikki Jayne

    I know if I still smoked this would make no difference to me, although I might buy a nice cigarette case instead.
    I didn’t buy cigarettes because I liked the pack… I used to smoke B&H Silver and the slide packet design actually really pissed me off, but it didn’t make me change brands.

  2. Chris Snowdon

    A classic example of how ASH will say anything to get their policies through. I expect them to appear on a Conservative blog tomorrow saying what a wonderful Conservative policy plain packaging and how it appeals to Tory values.

    This could be fisked at great length, but three quick points. The ‘market failure’ Dockrell pretends to care about is a direct result of ASH’s various bans which have made it possible for companies to compete. Plain packaging will do nothing to make people stop smoking, but it will bring the curtain down on any kind of competitive market.

    Secondly, please spare us your crocodile tears about the poor. Nothing has done more to wipe out the gains of progressive taxation that sin taxes on tobacco, alcohol and (if the fanatics get their way) food. These are the most regressive policies imaginable and saying ‘the poor should give up smoking’ is not an adequate response when we know full well that people on low incomes are the least likely to quit and the most likely to buy tobacco on the black market.

    Thirdly, it is true that 98% of the respondents to the last consultation were in favour of plain packaging. The fact that ASH’s own survey at the time found that less than half of people surveyed were in favour of the policy is a crystal clear indication that public consultations are no guide to public opinion. It turns out that over 70% of respondents had been gathered by groups funded by the Department of Health. I expect the same rigging this time, not least because the DoH is spending £100,000s of public money actively campaigning for the policy.

  3. Laurencekate

    My 8 year old already wants timberland boots, and north face fleeces. There can be no doubt that kids are attracted to brand and design. Adults can make informed decisions, kids can’t. Adults don’t start smoking, kids do….

  4. Fiona Andrews

    Tobacco companies need to find one new smoker for each of the 100,000 people that die or quit every year, and so it is in their interest to make their product as alluring as possible. Shiny holograms, pretty pastel colours and LEGO look-alike wrappers are just some of the eye-catching pack designs available. Surely this isn’t right? There is building evidence to suggest that these packs can attract and mislead children.

  5. Angela Harbutt

    What a patronising load of guff by ASH. And the sheer nerve of it. £500,000 has been ciphered of NHS budgets in the South West just to lobby those living down there that they should Andrew Lansley’s plan. Now if that isn’t government robbing the poor so it can say “ooh we have public support” i dont know what is. And is probably the tip of the iceberg. We just dont know – it took FOI requests and lots of evasion to get that information out of public services. Just how much NHS money is being spent ? I urge people to say no to plain packs – the counterfeiters’ charter and sign our petition

  6. Robin Ireland

    RT @leftfootfwd: How plain packaging on cigarettes will work. Now wait for massive industry denialism and obfuscation

  7. luisco9

    Hey Tories, ASH want you to know that plain packaging is a true Labour policy. Just sayin' like.

  8. Debra Lapthorne

    RT @leftfootfwd: How plain packaging on cigarettes will work. Now wait for massive industry denialism and obfuscation

  9. Bryan Stoten

    Angela glad you are so concerned about the public purse, I’m sure the economic case against tobacco has just passed you by. However the cost of treating tobacco related disease in the oncology and cardiology units for which I have a responsibility is enraging to anyone who wants to get on and deal with unavoidable morbidity.
    Foolishness and ignorance are no excuse for posting this kind of uninformed abuse!

  10. Fiona Andrews

    If you want to make a real difference to health inequalities. If you want to cut the unfair gap in life expectancy linked to smoking then supporting plain (standardised) tobacco packaging is a great way to do it. Take 2 minutes out to click on our dedicated website and make your voice heard in this debate. Smokefree South West, major charities such as British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and a whole range of other organsisations think the evidence is compelling. We’ve already had over 32,000 people show their support at our dedicated website and would be delighted if you could give us your backing by signing up too.

  11. DutyFreeCig

    How plain packaging on cigarettes will work: As with Labour's tobacco advertising ban almost a decade ago, adult…

  12. Dick Puddlecote

    Dear Labour voters, please support that lovely Andrew Lansley fellow as he is such a wise man, Love ASH #Cringeworthy

  13. Anonymous

    Absolutely – tobacco should be an illegal drug.
    (I also support Portugal’s policy on illegal drugs)

  14. Angela Harbutt

    Abuse. I cannot see how what I said was abuse. And certainly not uninformed. According to ASH smoking costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year. According to HMRC tobacco taxes are £10 billion+ a year . The facts concerning money taken out of NHS budgets for promoting plain packaging came from the NCH PCTs in the South West through FOI requests.I am sorry you are facing anger – no one should have to face abuse for something they are not responsible for. Many thanks. Angela

  15. davo

    That twit Simon Clarke is getting £300,000 this year from the tobacco companies for his lobbying efforts. You could say that is also public money which big tobacco have taken from helpless addicts.

  16. Ryan

    Angela I saw your interview on sky news. talk about mutton dressed as lamb. you looked like a washed up porn-star! better pack in the cigarettes because they are making your face old and wrinkly. You say you smoke because of the taste? yeah, the taste of nicotine, which some say is addictive as heroin and cocaine. That makes you a junkie! how about you make another video where you’re blindfolded and see how many different cigarette brands you can correctly identify.

  17. Anthony Winslow

    My it seems that people are getting tetchy. The truth of the matter is that we all know plain packaging wont do anything for smoking rates. Its just a way of ANdrew Lansley trying to cuddle up to health groups he fell out with over NHS reforms. I see no reason why we should do anything to support Lansley and every reason to send him and the rest a message.

  18. Anthony

    Cut it out mate – there is no need for that- let’s try to keep it to the issue and not just throw silly insults about eh?

  19. Ryan

    The owners of the tobacco industry are scum, they make obscene amounts of money getting people hooked on their lethal products. And anyone who is low enough to accept funding from them to campaign in their favour deserves to be insulted.

  20. Simon Cooke

    I’ve been asked to pass on a message to ASH from the organised crime community.

    “Thank you, thank you, thank you…this proposal is a bonanza for us. Our counterfeiting costs are reduced, the huge extra costs on retail businesses will close more small shops in poorer parts of Britain opening up these markets to our agents in white vans and council flats. And we’ll be able to target children with impunity – and then sell them cannabis, cocaine and heroin. So thank you for once again supporting our cause. Yours, The Mafia (on behalf of crime gangs everywhere)

  21. Richard Coates

    Is that Fiona Andrew, the Director of Smokefree South West? Are you posting in your own time, or are you spending even more NHS resources on propoganda?

  22. Mr. Sensible

    Nice to see that Lansley is coming around to an idea like this, when he previously resisted such a move.

  23. Anonymous

    I look forward to this policy matching the outstanding success of plain packaging for heroin.

  24. Jenny Beich

    How plain packaging on cigarettes will work: There can be no doubt that kids are attracted to brand and design. …

  25. Stop Smoking

    How plain packaging on cigarettes will work: That way they reduce the incentive for poorer smokers who want to q…

  26. Anonymous

    So a “man” from the left makes demeaning and sexist remarks about a woman from the “right” and that is ok? Nauseating Marxist hypocrisy to me.

  27. Anonymous

    The propaganda that tobacco shouldn’t be a listed drug?

  28. Anonymous

    Yes, I’m sure you have plenty of friends in orgcrime.

    You’re arguing very nicely to make tobacco a listed drug, and to adopt a sensible evidence-based policy towards them, as Portugal has.

  29. DutyFreeCig

    How plain packaging on cigarettes will work: I know if I still smoked this would make no difference to me, altho…

  30. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: How plain packaging on cigarettes will work

  31. Sage Gonzales

    How plain packaging on cigarettes will work – Left Foot Forward

  32. Anonymous

    Not only is Angela right on the £2.7 billion vs £10.3 billion taxes, in fact the costs of treating the obese, smokers and healthy from the age of 20 were done by the Dutch Health Ministry. The figures are in Euros:

    Healthy: 281,000

    Obese: 250,000

    Smokers: 220,000

    So we not only £10.3 billion in taxes we cost the state less in the long run. On top of that 80,000 people are reliant upon tobacco indirectly and directly for their jobs.

  33. JC

    This is all a way of re-arranging the deck chairs. Why not just ban smoking altogether and then the costs to the NHS will disappear over time. As of course will the revenue gained from taxing tobacco. Problem solved.

  34. Anonymous

    Shall we ban smoking along with tax evasion, heroin, cocaine, speeding, the Conservative Party, UKIP, the BNP and we can all then have apple pie for tea.

  35. T.E.C.C

    How plain packaging on cigarettes will work

  36. Rebecca Devitt

    How plain packaging on cigarettes will work: by Martin Dockrell of

  37. Anonymous

    It doesn’t matter how they’re packed, if kids want them kids will buy them. Many, if not most, kids in Canada smoke contraband cigarettes packed in transparent plastic bags sold around their school for about $1.50 per 20 and could care less neither about how unattractive the packs are nor about the bugs, rodent feces or floor sweepings found in these cigarettes manufactured God only knows where and how. This is the result of extortionist taxation (similar to the UK’s) brought about by greedy alleged do-gooders and governments who pretend to care.

    Since smoking prevalence has remained more or less stagnant mostly everywhere rabid anti-smokers took over tobacco control, perhaps the only way we can fix the problem is to wrap anti-smoker lobbyists in plain clothing with a mask over their head so they can no longer compete with each other for government or pharmaceutical grants. Only then might we go back to honest education that was working just fine in curbing the smoking prevalence up until anti-smokers became greedy and absurd.

  38. TobaccoController

    From the consultation report itself (pages 7 and 8):

    Overview of consultation submissions
    In total, more than 96,000 responses were received. The majority of these were pre-written postcards or e-mail campaigns. These included the following:
    Campaign/Organisation Submissions
    Smokefree North West 49,507
    Cancer Research UK 9,200
    Dmyst 10,757
    Smokefree Action 1,562
    Smokefree North East 8,128
    Tobacco Control Alliance Wales 118
    FOREST 2,121
    Independent Retail News (petition) 581
    Most of the responses for each of these campaigns focus only on a few issues raised in the consultation, particularly on questions 7 (marketing tobacco accessories), 8 (displays), and 9 (vending machines). The phrasing was often generic, for example, “I support measures to protect our children from tobacco marketing.”

    A great PR job…..but genuine responses?

  39. CornwallSupport

    With all the talk of plain packaging on tobacco products,how will it actually work and why does it matter? @ASH_LDN

  40. Anonymous

    It is Clark without an ‘e’, twit. 😉

  41. Lchircop

    Interesting findings. It seems that even avid smokers understand the dangers of cigarettes these days, and would urge others not to ever have that first dangerous puff. Addictive substances can only be phased out over time by dissuading young people from ever taking them in the first place. This legislation is a good step towards that.

  42. On tobacco packaging, the answer is plain | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: • How plain packaging on cigarettes will work 16 Apr […]

  43. Toby Price

    @injunction_mp @AngelaHarbutt1 one of the comments on here is hilarious

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