Plain cigarette packaging works, scientists suggest ahead of UK legal clampdown

Henry Bodkin

Plain cigarette packaging is effective and should lead to 300,000 fewer smokers in the first year after being introduced in the UK, a major new study suggests.

Data from Australia, which imposed the policy in 2012, found that restricting the colour, size and font on packages was associated with a noticeable drop in the number of people smoking in the first 12 months.

Plain packaging formally comes into effect in Britain on May 20th, but has in reality been the practice for most of the last year.

Standardised packaging can change attitudes and beliefs about smoking

Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Oxford University

Years of legal clampdowns on tobacco advertising and sponsorship meant manufacturers poured more efforts into making packets as appealing as possible.

Other data reviewed by the researchers suggested that plain packaging prompts a four per cent increase in attempts to quit, and makes it less likely non-smokers will choose to start.

Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, from Oxford University, who co-wrote the Cochrane review of previous studies, said: “Our evidence suggests that standardised packaging can change attitudes and beliefs about smoking, and the evidence we have so far suggests that standardised packaging may reduce smoking prevalence and increase quit attempts.”

End of an era: cigarette packs are now a uniform colour Credit: Gary Cameron

The team found that the number of people smoking as a proportion of the Australian population a year after plain packaging came into effect decreased by 0.5%.

A comparable impact in the UK would mean a combination of 300,000 extra people quitting or not taking up smoking, in addition to the overarching decline of the habit.

In Australia, packets already displayed disturbing graphic health warnings before 2012, suggesting the accelerated dip in smoking was specifically due to the less colourful and interesting packaging.

The new UK rules, which derive from EU regulations, mean cigarettes can only be sold in cuboid-shaped packages of a single colour, with a flip top rather than hinged lid and uniform font.

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