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An example selection of currently available tobacco packs

We’ve been campaigning for plain, standardised packaging for a long time.

After more than five years of debate and discussion, nearly two years of active campaigning from us, amendments to a Bill in the House of Lords to get standard packs before parliament, a vote in the Commons, approval in the Lords, plus the royal stamp all legislation requires, victory is finally in sight.

Today Sir Cyril Chantler’s independent review has reported that the weight of evidence points only in one direction: plain standard cigarette packs will help to stop people – especially children – from taking up the deadly tobacco habit.

Two sides to the story

It’s no surprise that the two sides of this debate are highly polarised.

On one hand the public health community – more than 250 organisations including royal medical colleges, health charities and the British Medical Association – called for standard packs to be introduced as a way to reduce the appeal of tobacco to children and reduce smoking rates.

On the other hand a zealous tobacco lobby claims there’s no evidence standard packs will work, that smugglers would flood the UK with fake cigarettes, costing jobs, and that smokers’ rights are being attacked.

Those making these claims all have connections (usually financial) to the tobacco industry, which relies on smokers remaining addicted to their product if they’re to stay in business.

And let’s not forget that product kills half of all long-term users.

Fact not fiction

We’ve recently reviewed the growing evidence for standard packs on this blog, making the case that the evidence supporting their introduction is already well established.

Today’s report gives an independent assessment of the facts – and it’s undeniable that standard cigarette packs can be ‘one of the greatest gifts we can give the next generation’.

The review gives an overwhelming endorsement for the introduction of standardised packaging in the UK and Sir Cyril makes some important points:

  • Having visited Australia to see plain packaging first hand a reasonable and informed view is now possible.
  • The Stirling Review – involving our researchers – is the most extensive and authoritative piece of work on the issue of standardised packaging yet undertaken.
  • The tobacco industry’s argument that standardised packaging would increase the illicit market, especially in counterfeit cigarettes, is unconvincing
  • There is very strong evidence that exposure to tobacco advertising and promotion increases the likelihood of children taking up smoking.

Piecing together the evidence

Sir Cyril summarised: “The tobacco industry argues that all of its marketing activity, including packaging, aims solely to persuade existing adult smokers to switch brand and never targets children or new smokers.”

“However, in my opinion, whatever their intent, it is not plausible that the effect of branded packaging is only to encourage brand switching amongst adult smokers, and never to encourage non-smokers from taking up smoking.

“It seems to me that children and non-smokers are not, and cannot be, quarantined from seeing tobacco packaging and in my view once they are exposed to this packaging, they are susceptible to its appeal whether it is intended to target them or not.

“In the light of these and other considerations set out in my report I believe that branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption.”

One thing we know for sure is that the tobacco industry will continue to fight hard against this judgement. But even their own spokespeople seem to acknowledge the enticing nature of tobacco marketing.

Speaking recently on the Daily Politics Show (27 March 2014, BBC 2), Simon Clark of the ‘Hands Off Our Packs’ (HOOPs) campaign, funded by the tobacco industry, admitted the difference between existing packs and plain standard ones was:

“like showing a picture of a Lamborghini and a beaten up Ford Escort and saying which one do you prefer?”

Where there’s a will, and a way

As we’ve written before, the House of Commons has overwhelmingly agreed that they want to see standardised packaging for tobacco products in the UK. The will of Parliament is clear, and the will of the people is just as apparent: YouGov polling found that: ’85 per cent of people back government action to reduce the number of young people who start smoking’.

Now, following the release of Sir Cyril’s report, the Government has announced that draft regulations – detailing what it will take to get standard packs on the shelves – will be published by the end of April.

This will accompany a short and final consultation to gather any new evidence they didn’t get when they previously consulted last year ‘… in order to ensure that that decision is properly and fully informed’.

This means the final regulations for standard packs should be voted through before the General Election in May 2015. We’re asking for supporters to send a short message to their MP asking them to keep pressure on the Government to move ahead with standard packs.

Today’s review strengthens the conviction and determination of the entire public health community to free children from tobacco marketing.

It commits the Government to banish the mobile tobacco “billboard” to the history books for good.

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