Plain packaging of tobacco products

Cigarette packs in plain (standardised) packaging

Plain or standardised packaging means all cigarette packs will look the same. They are packaged in a standard shape without branding, design or a logo. Often called simply "plain packs", the packs are not plain at all.

Features of plain packs include:

  • The shape, colour and method of opening the pack will be the same, no matter what brand of cigarettes it is.
  • Cigarette packs will be a standard shape, size and colour.
  • Picture and text health warnings will take up the majority of space on the packs.
  • Brand names will be in standard type face, colour and size.
  • The duty paid stamp will remain with covert markings that show the pack is not counterfeit.

Does plain packaging work?

International resreach has shown that plain packaging discourages young people from smoking in a number of ways:

  • Young people find plain packs less attractive and appealing than branded packs.
  • Plain packs are seen as being less ‘cool’by young people.
  • Health warnings on plain packs have a greater impact and make people think more about the risks associated with smoking.
  • Plain packs prevent any confusion about lighter coloured packs being less harmful to the smoker.

The first study of the impact of Australia’s ban compared the smokers has found that standardised pack smokers were 66% more likely to think their cigarettes were poorer quality than a year ago and were 70% more likely to say they found them less satisfying than branded pack smokers.

They were also 81% more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day during the previous week and to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives than smokers using brand packs.

How tobacco branding works

Did you know that the tobacco industry’s biggest growth area is amongst children? Did you know that they specifically target young people so that they become addicted from an early age?

We don’t think that’s ok and that’s why we’re supporting a new law that will make cigarette packets less attractive to children.

Children themselves say that if packs were made less appealing, that they wouldn’t smoke. Australia was the first country to bring in this type of law and it has had a very positive impact so far.

Marketing to children

Since it became illegal to advertise cigarettes in Ireland in 2002, the tobacco industry has been investing huge amounts of money in branding and packaging designed to attract new customers, most of whom are children.

80% of smokers start before the before the age of 18 and children in Ireland began smoking at an earlier age than in any other country in Europe. In order to continue making huge profits, the tobacco industry needs to recruit 50 new smokers a day to replace those who have either died or quit. Most of these new smokers are children.

Our research shows the truth about branding

Focus group research with 15 to 16 year olds, commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society and Irish Heart Foundation, found that young people associated visually attractive packs with looking and feeling better about themselves.

The teens consider the brand of cigarette they smoke to communicate important aspects of their personality and status and is as important to them as other brands in their lives such as their phone, trainers, clothes and computer.

Tobacco packaging and branding is the last remaining way for the tobacco industry to market its products to children.

The industry itself says, "In the absence of any other marketing messages, our packaging -- comprised of the trademark, our design, colour and information -- is the sole communicator of our brand essence. Put another way -- when you don't have anything else -- our packaging is our marketing." Philip Morris.

Why do we need plain packs?

In Ireland, children start smoking at a younger age than in any other European country (16.4 years). Seventy-eight per cent of smokers started to smoke before the age of 18.

5,200 people die from smoking every year in Ireland – that’s the size of Tipperary Town being wiped out annually. In order to maintain current smoking levels, the tobacco industry has to attract 50 new smokers a day to replace those who have either died or quit. Given that most smokers start smoking before they are 18, most of these new recruits are children.

Why does the tobacco industry focus on children?

The tobacco industry knows that if they recruit smokers at a young age, they will often become lifetime smokers. Health legislation which is effectively reducing the smoking rate, such as the ban on cigarette displays in shops and on cigarette advertising, has restricted the ways in which the tobacco industry can attract new smokers. One of the only ways left to recruit young smokers is through the packaging and design of tobacco products.

Tobacco companies invest huge sums of money in advertising and marketing their products in order to recruit new customers, who are nearly always children and young people. That is why legislation to introduce plain or standardised packaging is so urgently required.

Plain or standardised packaging will limit the tobacco industry’s ability to attract young people by using marketing techniques that are intentionally misleading (for instance, lots of girls think that if they smoke the slimline cigarettes that they are less harmful to them, or that light coloured packaging indicates lower tar levels etc.).

We think that children should have a right to be protected from the marketing of a highly addictive and seriously harmful product. Plain packaging is one way we can do this: by making smoking less appealing and health warnings more effective. The faster the legislation is introduced, the more lives will ultimately be saved.

Internal tobacco industry documents show that companies have invested heavily in package design to communicate to specific demographics, including young people. The shape and colour of tobacco packaging, combined with the brand logo all help to make the product attractive to new consumers. The industry uses pack technologies (e.g. novel forms of pack opening, new tactile boxes, etc.) and innovations in design (e.g. re-brandings, limited edition packaging) to communicate particular attributes about their brands and make them attractive to certain groups of customers.

Plain packaging law passed by Oireachtas

Fewer children will take up smoking as a result of the new law introducing plain packaging of tobacco in Ireland.  On 10 March 2015, President Michael D Higgins signed into law the legislation introducing plain packaging on cigarette packs.

This followed the successful passage of the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2015 through the Houses of the Oireachtas, with cross-party support.

Scaremongering by the tobacco industry has only reinforced support for the initiative.

Is plain packaging happening anywhere else?

Australia was the first country in the world to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products.

From 1 December 2012, it became illegal for tobacco companies to use brand logos, colours or promotional text on their tobacco packaging. Branding is restricted to the name of the manufacturer and the name of the product displayed in a standard size and typeface and all packs must be produced in the same colour. All Australian packets must include graphic health warning images both on the front and back.

Ireland became the first country in the European Union and second in the world to make plain packaging the law when the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015 was signed by President Higgins in March 2015.

The UK and France introduced plain packaging on 20 May 2016.

Other countries indicating they will introduce the measure include New Zealand, Norway, Turkey, South Africa and India.

For more information

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