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Experts comment on new laws for tobacco packaging and e-cigarettes

Professor Linda Bauld
Professor of Health Policy, Linda Bauld

On Friday, 20th May 2016, the laws around tobacco packaging will change. Under new regulations voted for by MPs, tobacco and cigarettes can only be sold in plain, standardised packaging.

The decision to make these changes as a public health measure to protect children’s health was informed by the work of the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing (ISM).

A systematic review of evidence of standardised packaging carried out by the Institute showed that standard packs are less appealing, make health warnings more effective, and reduce the ability of the packaging to mislead consumers about the harms of smoking.

Under the new regulations, all tobacco products will be sold in dark green packages, with brand features and bright colours replaced with large graphic images of the effects of smoking and health warnings.

Commenting on the new regulations and their implications, experts from the ISM made the following observations:

Gerard Hastings, Professor of Social Marketing said: "The introduction of plain packaging is another giant step forward in the fight against tobacco, which is still killing tens of thousands of people every year in Britain. 

“Over the last two decades we have blocked the tobacco industry’s pernicious marketing in the media, in our shops and now on the pack itself.  The big winners will be our children, who will escape being groomed for addiction and early death in the interests of private profit. Today is a day which every parent, every teacher and every child can cheer to the roof tops.”

Martine Stead, Deputy Director of the Institute for Social Marketing said: “We have examined evidence of the potential impact of standardised packaging from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and France. The evidence is clear: putting cigarettes into plain packs makes tobacco products, and smoking in general, less appealing to young people.

“People pay more attention to health warnings when packs have no distracting branding on them. The colour is also important as people assume white packs are somehow less harmful than darker coloured packs. This confusion disappears when all packs are the same dark colour.”

Crawford Moodie, Senior Research Fellow, said: “Australia remains the only country to have fully implemented plain packaging. Large national surveys with both adults and youth there show since the regulation was introduced, prevalence and consumption has declined, with fewer adults and young people smoking now than at any time since these surveys began.

“There’s also been an increase in the average age of smoking initiation and the proportion of never smoking. The evidence in favour of plain packaging is now stronger than it has ever been.”

On the same day, changes to the current rules around tobacco related products including e-cigarettes will come into effect. This includes restrictions around advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes and how products containing different levels of nicotine are regulated.

Commenting on the developments to e-cigarette regulations, Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy, said: “Electronic cigarettes are now used by 2.8 million adults in the UK, with almost half of these users being ex-smokers. All existing research suggests that while e-cigarettes shouldn’t be promoted to children who have never smoked, they offer a far safer alternative for people who currently use tobacco.

“New EU regulations on e-cigarettes are contained in one specific part of the TPD - Article 20 - which imposes new restrictions on these devices. TPD limits on nicotine concentration, tank size and e-liquid containers are not well supported by existing evidence. Only time will tell if Article 20 has unintended consequences, and this needs to be the focus of future careful research and monitoring.”

Media enquiries to Corrie Campbell, Communications Officer on 01786 466 169 or c.r.campbell@stir.ac.uk.