Plain Packaging FAQs

What are plain packs?

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. Features of plain packs include:

  • The shape, colour and method of opening the pack will be standardised.

  • Cigarette packs will be a standard shape, size and colour.

  • Pictorial and text health warnings will feature on all 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.

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.

When will plain packaging be introduced in Ireland?

In November 2013, the Minister for Health published the outline of a Bill to introduce plain packaging in Ireland.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children held a consultation on the proposed new laws in early 2014 and invited interest groups to submit their reaction to the General Scheme. The Irish Cancer Society made a detailed submission to the TDs and Senators outlining why plain packaging will work. You can read that submission here.

Following a number of hearings with doctors, retailers, legal professionals, the Gardaí and the Revenue Commissioners, the tobacco industry and organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children published their report in April 2014.

The Minister for Health introduced the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill to the Seanad on 17 June 2014 and to the Dáil on 2 July 2014.

The Bill passed the Oireachtas unopposed on 3 March 2015 and signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins on 10 March 2015.

The law states that all tobacco manufactured after 20 May 2016 must be in standardised packaging. It allows for a one year ‘washout’ period of old packaging and it will be an offence to sell branded tobacco from 20 May 2017.

A minor technical amendment to the law needs to be passed by the Oireachtas before plain packaging can come into force. Due to an unprecedented delay in the formation of Government, this did not happen before 20 May 2016, meaning that plain packs have not yet hit the shelves.

The Irish Cancer Society has called for Government to act quickly to avoid any further delays in introducing plain packaging and continues to press for action so that the relevant legislation is prioritised and passes as quickly as possible.

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.

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 Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation recently commissioned a quantitative study with 15-16 year olds. The study found that:

  • Cigarette packaging that is viewed as appealing has the power to generate buzz and motivate purchase whereas packaging that is seen as ‘unattractive’ or ‘old fashioned’ is immediately rejected.

  • Teens felt that the positive brand attributes of appealing packs (fun, glamour, masculinity, luxury etc.) can transfer to those who smoke them.

  • For teens cigarette packaging is not just about the look and feel of the pack, it is about making the smoker ‘look’ and feelbetter about themselves and their status.

  • Plain packaging was immediately rejected by teens who expressed concerns about the look and feel of the packaging as well as the perceived users, both of which are completely at odds with the image teens would like to portray of themselves.

  • Overall, teen smokers claimed they would quit when plain packs were introduced and non/light smokers said they were unlikely to seek or continue to trial cigarettes.

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.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Date Last Revised: 
Tuesday, May 31, 2016