Cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging

MPs have voted for the introduction of plain, standardised packaging for cigarettes. But can a mere change in branding really have much effect on what we choose to consume?

In the 1940s, well over half of the population of the UK smoked; in 2013 that figure was down to just 20.5%. Today, efforts to reduce that figure further received a boost as MPs overwhelmingly voted for cigarettes only to be sold in dull, plain packaging. The success of the bill means that from 2016, every packet of cigarettes will look identical except for a generic label indicating the brand name and make. Dark colours will be favoured for the packets, with olive green the preferred choice, as they are perceived to signify more harm, and all will come with graphic photos and health warnings.

Australia became the first country to enforce plain packaging in 2012, while Ireland passed a similar law earlier this month. Studies have shown that branding and a packet’s appearance are important factors in why people take up smoking. By getting rid of any differentiation between brands, campaigners are hoping to eliminate smoking’s ‘cool’ factor.

The drop in smoking after this law comes into effect is expected to be small, but not insignificant. Alison Cox, of Cancer Research UK, said the move would ‘save lives’. Yet a representative for the Tobacco Manufacturer’s Association said ‘there was a complete lack of evidence’ that it would work, and also claimed that it would interfere with consumers’ freedom of choice.

Over 600 children between 11 and 15 start smoking every day in the UK. Cigarettes kill about 100,000 people each year, mostly due to cancers, lung diseases and heart diseases. It is estimated that the habit kills roughly half its users.

Since it became clear after the Second World War that smoking was deadly, a raft of UK legislation has been introduced to discourage the habit. First came a ban on cigarette advertising on television in 1965. Health warnings on packets arrived in 1971. All advertising was banned in 2002, then in 2007 came the most significant change: the ban on smoking in all public places, including pubs and restaurants.

Stubbing out smoking

Most smokers say that the importance of branding has been massively overstated. People buy cigarettes because they are addicted to them, not because of a pretty picture on the packet — which already look unappealing in any case, with disturbing images of diseased lungs and decaying teeth. This law is a needless gimmick: the emphasis should remain on teaching the health perils of smoking.

You might not think you are being affected by branding, but there’s a reason companies spend millions making their products look as appealing as possible: it works. The tobacco industry grew largely because of successful advertising campaigns. Any efforts to stop smoking appealing to people should be welcomed.

You Decide

  1. Do you think you’d be less likely to buy a product if the package was boring?
  2. Do you think there is something inherently sinister about branding and advertising?


  1. Class debate: ‘This House believes that advertisements for sweets and chocolate should be banned’.
  2. Design a poster encouraging people to stop smoking.

Some People Say...

“Smoking is hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, and dangerous to the lungs.”

King James I

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t smoke. Why does this affect me?
It affects you because tobacco smoke can affect people around those smoking. This is called ‘passive smoking’. Evidence shows that non-smokers who live with the second-hand smoke of a smoker increase their risk of lung cancer by around 25%.
Will smoking ever be banned completely?
Many people think it is inevitable that smoking will one day be made illegal. However it would be difficult to enforce. Smoking has been a part of our culture for centuries, and some fear it may be too deeply embedded to eliminate completely. What seems almost certain is that the percentage of smokers in the UK will continue to decrease.

Word Watch

22% of men in the UK smoke, and 19% of women. In 1974 it was 51% of men and 41% of women.
Olive green
When Australia introduced plain packaging research discovered that olive green was the least attractive colour for consumers. The research also found that pale green, contrastingly, promotes the idea of freshness.
Cancer Research UK
A cancer awareness and research charity formed in the UK in 2002. It is the world’s largest independent cancer charity and conducts research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Cigarette advertising
Before the ban on cigarette advertising many famous people helped advertise tobacco. In the USA, actors and actresses like John Wayne and Audrey Hepburn appeared in poster advertisements. In the UK, top footballers like Stanley Matthews and Dixie Dean gave their support to certain brands.


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