Standardised / plain packaging

From 20th May 2016, the laws surrounding tobacco packaging changed in the UK. From this date all tobacco products manufactured for sale in the UK must comply with the new laws. There is a one year transitional period for the sell-through of old stock and from May 2017 all tobacco products on sale in the UK must comply with these regulations.

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Under the new packaging and labeling regulations cigarettes and tobacco will no longer be sold in bright, glitzy packs, but in drab green packages. They will have large graphic images on the front and back of the packets to highlight the health effects of smoking and health warnings must appear at the top of all packs. 

The new packaging rules are contained in two sets of regulations:

  •  Standardised “Plain” Packaging 
  • Tobacco Products Directive

Standardised “Plain” Packaging

Standardised or “plain” packaging is tobacco packaging that has had all the attractive features removed. In March 2015 MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of introducing regulations to standardise the appearance of all tobacco packaging in the UK. This includes:

  • The material, size, shape and opening mechanism of the packaging
  • The colour of packaging and cigarettes
  • The font, colour, size, case and alignment of text

Tobacco Products Directive 

The Tobacco Products Directive applies to all tobacco products manufactured and sold within EU member states. With regards to tobacco packaging, the TPD (which took affect in May 2016) enforces:

  • Requirement of combined picture and text health warnings to cover 65% of the front and back of cigarette and roll-your-own tobacco packages
  • Requirement of health warnings to appear at the top of the packet
  • Prohibition of certain promotional and misleading descriptors on packaging of tobacco products such as “lite”, “natural” and “organic”
  • Requirement that cigarettes are sold in packs of a minimum of 20 sticks and Hand Rolling Tobacco in a minimum of 30 gram packets
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Case Study: Australia

Australia became the first country in the world to introduce standardised tobacco packaging in December 2012 and tobacco is now sold in packs like those in the image. Evidence shows that it is having a positive impact and reducing smoking prevalence.

  • The only branding is the product name in a standard font and colour
  • The pack and contents are a standard shape, size and colour
  • Health warnings on the front and back have been increased in size
  • Security markings, including covert security, remain

Other countries around the world, including New Zealand, France, Finland and Norway, have indicated that they intend to implement standardised packaging of tobacco. On 3rd March 2015 Ireland became the second country to implement standardised packaging regulations.

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Opposition to Standardised Packaging

The tobacco industry has campaigned extensively against the introduction of standardised packaging. Industry representatives have made a range of claims, including citing false or questionable evidence to MPs and the public. Some of the industry’s claims, and the facts, used in the campaign include:

  • The Government would have to pay billions of pounds of compensation

This is an industry suggestion that compensation would be due to tobacco companies in regards to loss of sales. If the Government had legal advice that high levels of compensation were due, it would have had to be included in the bill’s Impact Assessment, which is was not. In any case, the overall benefits of standardised packaging are approximately £30 billion, therefore outweighing any compensation.

  • Standardised packaging will be the final blow for retailers

Although there is evidence in the Government’s Impact Assessment to show that retail newsagents are likely to have reduced profits from tobacco, the Impact Assessment also makes clear that money not spend on tobacco will be redistributed to other areas of the economy. Small businesses like newsagents will pick up some of this benefit, which will outweigh tobacco profits lost.

  • Standardised packaging will lead to an increase in the trade of illegal tobacco

HMRC has concluded that no evidence has been seen to suggest the introduction of standardised packaging will have an impact on the overall size of the illegal tobacco market. Claims that illegal tobacco trade has increased in Australia are not substantiated by data from the Australian Government. Indeed, one study found that, contrary to tobacco industry claims, there has been no evidence in Australia of increased use of illicit tobacco1. The only reports showing an increase have been funded by the tobacco industry and have not been peer-reviewed.

  • Standardised packaging has led to an increase in youth smoking

Data from Australia has been misquoted by the tobacco industry in attempts to substantiate this claim. The data used does not include enough under 18s for the figures to be reliable. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the introduction of standardised packaging has reduced the appeal of cigarette packs to adolescents2.

  • The UK must wait for the Australian Government’s post-implementation review

The industry claimed that an Australian post-implementation review was to be published on 27th March 2015 and that the UK Government should wait for this before passing the regulations. This was just the end date for a consultation, rather than a publication date, and is therefore another attempt to delay the UK decision until after the General Election (it is worth noting that 27th March 2015 was the last day Parliament sat before it was dissolved for the 2015 General Election).

  • Shutters to put tobacco out of sight will cost small retailers thousands of pounds

This is simply untrue and cost-effective covers can be bought for as little as £120.

Further Information


1Scollo M, Zacher M, Coomber K and Wakefield M (2015) Use of illicit tobacco following introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products in Australia: results from a national cross-sectional survey. Tobacco Control Journal; 24:ii76-ii81

2White V, Williams T & Wakefield M. (2015) Has the introduction of plain packaging with larger graphic health warnings changed adolescents’ perceptions of cigarette packs and brands? Tobacco Control Journal; 24:ii42-ii49