Ireland strengthens tobacco control through standardized packaging

Ireland recently became the third country in the WHO European Region – and only the fourth in the world – to begin enforcing standardized or plain packaging legislation related to tobacco products. On 29 March 2017, Ireland’s Minister of State, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, signed the order mandating that all tobacco products manufactured for retail sale in the country must, from 30 September 2017, be in standardized packaging. This important public health success was achieved after years of work by national, international, governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

Plain or standardized packaging means that all forms of branding – trademarks, logos, colours and graphics – must be removed from tobacco packs. The brand and variant names must be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands, and the packs must all be in one plain neutral colour.

In Ireland, nearly 6000 people die per year from tobacco-related disease and tobacco use. The standardized packaging of tobacco products is an evidence-based measure that will help the country to achieve its overarching goal of a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025, thus improving health and saving lives.

Evidence shows standardized packaging works

International evidence suggests that standardized packaging reduces the appeal of tobacco products, particularly among young people, increases the effectiveness of health warnings and reduces the ability of branded tobacco packaging to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking.

Research in Australia, published in BMJ Open, shows that smokers who smoke cigarettes from a plain rather than a branded pack are:

  • 81% more likely to have thought about quitting at least once a day and to rate quitting as a high priority in their lives;
  • 70% more likely to say that they find cigarettes less satisfying;
  • 66% more likely to think that their cigarettes are of poorer quality.

The adoption of standardized packaging is recommended in the guidelines for implementation of Article 11 (Packaging and labelling of tobacco products) and Article 13 (Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). This legally binding treaty has been ratified by 180 countries globally.

Ireland joins Australia, France and the United Kingdom in enforcing standardized packaging legislation. Several other countries, including Georgia, Hungary, Norway and Slovenia, have made the same decision and are taking steps towards implementation, and additional countries are considering it.

Tobacco control measures support sustainable development

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 3.a specifically commits countries to strengthening the implementation of the WHO FCTC, within the overarching framework of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The inclusion of tobacco control and implementation of the WHO FCTC as a key target recognizes the magnitude of the smoking epidemic. It also indicates that all countries should prioritize tobacco control and commit to implementing strong tobacco control measures.

The tobacco industry uses the tobacco pack as a powerful advertising tool, thus avoiding marketing restrictions. But standardized packaging of tobacco products encourages more people to quit and fewer to start. It follows the success of banning point-of-sale displays in reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products to young people. It strips away the illusion of glamour and unveils the reality of a product that kills. Effective standardized packaging should not be seen as a stand-alone intervention but as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control.