Plain as day: The removal of cigarette branding will boost public health


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The Independent Online

Smoke, smoke and more smoke has issued from the tobacco industry in its attempt to block plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. Yet the case for such reform has long been clear. It reduces the attractiveness of cigarettes and makes young people less likely to pick up the habit. Smoking rates in Australia – the first country to introduce standardised packaging – have fallen at their fastest rate since the rule came into force in 2012.

And so, after much unnecessary delay, the Government has finally decided to introduce the required legislation before the general election in May. This completes a 360-degree turn on the matter: plans to remove branding from cigarette packets were initially shelved in 2013 after Lynton Crosby took up his role as the Conservatives’ election adviser.

But criticism from public health bodies has led the Government back to square one. The Tories will now, at least, possess some immunity from Labour attacks that they remain in hock to big business.

As with other public health reforms that aim to reduce smoking, the current fury about “nanny state” imposition will soon blow over. Opposition to plain packaging among Australian smokers fell away shortly after the legislation came into force. Simply, homogenised packaging does nothing to interfere with the day-to-day lives of smokers and – since two-thirds of them desire to give up anyway – may help some to quit (branding has been shown to diminish the impact of the increasingly gruesome health warnings). When the NHS has to support the cost of smoking-induced lung cancer, it should be uncontroversial for the Government to nudge behaviour in a healthier direction.

The desperation with which the tobacco industry has fought the legislation – losing, for example, a high-profile case in Australia over trademark rights – is in itself an indicator that plain packaging may hit sales. Smoking kills, after all. But we wouldn’t be any the wiser on that score if it were up to the likes of Philip Morris.