A 'powerwall'

Powerwalls will soon be a thing of the past

It’s the news we’ve been waiting for.

Today, the Government has announced that displays of tobacco in shops will be taken down, and they’re considering whether cigarettes should also be sold in plain packs.

Taking action against tobacco marketing is always welcome: tobacco causes one in four deaths from cancer, and half of longterm smokers will die from their addiction

The vast majority of adult smokers start in their teens so they are a top target for the tobacco industry. And since adverts in the media were banned, the tobacco industry has targeted their marketing on the glossy displays of cigarettes in shops and making their packaging attractive.

The end of powerwalls

We’ve written before about why tobacco shop displays must go. The large brightly lit displays act like big adverts for tobacco brands and, placed next to the sweets and crisps in shops, tobacco displays make smoking seem like an invitingly normal, everyday activity.

Although supermarket displays will be taken down by April 2012, today’s announcement delays the removal of displays in small shops until April 2015. We are very disappointed that they will last longer than they need to. The tobacco industry has led a massive campaign in favour of tobacco displays, based on various dubious arguments. In fact, Ireland has introduced very similar laws – and their shops found it straightforward to adapt.

Plain packaging back on the table

We are also pleased that the Government is looking at the introduction of plain packs – this could be every bit as significant in combating the harms of tobacco as the advertising ban or the end of smoking in public places.

The idea is that, rather than having all kinds of branding to make cigarettes appeal to different people, such as pink packets or long slim cigarettes for young women, all cigarettes and packets will look the same.

Research has found that plain packs would make smoking less attractive to young people while it will also improve the effectiveness of health warnings. Cigarette companies also use colours like silver indicating that some types of cigarettes are lower in tar and suggesting they are safer than other brands when, in fact, this is not true. Plain packs reduce these false beliefs.

Plain packaging of cigarettes and the removal of tobacco displays in shops are two policies backed by years of research.

It’s good that displays are eventually going – but the next step must be to end the attractive branding of cigarettes.