Plain tobacco packaging encourages more people to stop smoking and fewer to start


Evidence shows that plain tobacco packaging measures encourage more people to stop smoking and fewer to start. Consumers perceive plain packaging as ugly and dull — it decreases the attractiveness of tobacco products and smoking, particularly to young people and women. 

“When we offered them Marlboros at half price — in generic brown boxes — only 21% were interested, even though we assured them that each package was … identical, except for the different packaging, to what they normally bought at their local tobacconist. How to account for the difference? Simple. Smokers put their cigarettes in and out of their packets 20 to 25 times a day. The package makes a statement. The consumer is expressing how he wants to be seen by others,” according to information disclosed by the tobacco industry in the context of the 1987 Minnesota lawsuit.

The tobacco industry has always used the packaging of tobacco products as a powerful advertising tool and as a way to circumvent bans on promoting tobacco products. 

Australia adopts plain tobacco-packaging measures

Australia is the only country in the world that has adopted and introduced plain-packaging measures. They came into effect in December 2012. Despite the short time span since the measures were adopted, there is evidence showing a sustained 78% increase in calls to the tobacco quit line since such packaging was introduced. That increase is not attributable to anti-tobacco advertising activity, higher cigarette prices or other identifiable causes.

Policies in synergy to reduce tobacco consumption

A new evidence brief by WHO/Europe — Plain packaging of tobacco products: measures to decrease smoking initiation and increase cessation — provides evidence of the effectiveness of plain packaging measures in smoking prevention and cessation. 

The guidelines for the implementation of articles 11 (effective health warnings) and 13 (advertising ban) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommend the adoption of plain-packaging measures to decrease smoking initiation and to increase smoking cessation. The new Tobacco Products Directive adopted by the European Union in March 2014 will enter into force in 2016, making it possible for Member States to adopt plain packaging measures at the national level. 

The Directive is a step in the right direction and supports the vision of the Ashgabat Declaration for a tobacco-free European Region.