Standardised cigarette packaging could save 2,000 lives a year

According to the journal Addiction, stopping just one in twenty young people from taking up smoking as a habit would save 2,000 lives in the UK each year.

MPs are expected to vote on the measure during March and a law could come into force in 2016, creating a standardised packaging rule across the board.

Plain packaging was introduced in Australia in 2012, meaning each packet is now identical in size, shape and colour and the packs feature prominent health warnings and only bear brand names and variants in standardised fonts.

A series of studies, including research into the effects plain packaging has had in Australia and psychological studies analysing the response to cigarette packaging in the UK have found:

  • Plain packaging reduced unconscious urges to smoke, even in current smokers
  • Following the new rules in Australia, fewer smokers displayed their packs in public areas like cafes and bars.
  • The current packaging’s size, shape and opening method increases brand appeal and sales
  • Without prominent branding on packaging, more attention is given to health warnings in occasional smokers.
  • Standardised packaging is more effective at reducing the amount people smoke than larger health warnings.

George Butterworth, Tobacco Policy Manager for Cancer Research UK said: “The experience of Australia – where the new packs have been in place for over two years – has also shown the positive impact of removing brightly coloured packaging.

“There is overwhelming support from across the political spectrum as well as from the public. With MPs due to vote on this issue before the election, it’s great to have extra ammunition in the fight to reduce the devastating impact of tobacco.”

Tobacco control expert Professor Robert West said: “All the pieces are building the same picture, which is that it is going to have a reduction. None of the studies are pointing in the other direction.

“Even if it only prevented one in 20 young people from starting, and had absolutely no effect at all on existing smokers, it would still end up saving 2,000 lives a year. That is a testimony to how dangerous smoking is.”

The Westminster vote in March will be for legislation in England; Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will decide separately on whether to implement any change in the law. Wales has already said it will press ahead.

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