Footprint on moon

A giant leap for public health

Nearly four years ago we said, on this very blog, how pleased we were that measures to introduce plain, standardised tobacco packaging were ‘on the table’.

Since then we have peppered our blog with 31 articles on the subject – with countless more referencing it as part of our wider work.

And no matter how many times we have stated the facts about tobacco-use they remain as shocking and enduring:

And in the duration of our long campaign, as many times as we have rehearsed those facts, we have consistently pushed our position and that of our supporters:

The Government must introduce regulations for standardised packaging of tobacco products in this Parliament.

Last night we got one step closer to this. Alongside the release of our new polling showing support for standardised packaging reaching its highest level ever – with 72 per cent of the UK public backing the measure – we got the news we’ve been waiting for: the Government announced its intention to present regulations for standardised packaging in this parliament – taking us one step closer to getting tobacco marketing off the shelves in May 2016.

Of course, over the last 40 years, smoking rates have dropped substantially. But we know these rates don’t fall on their own. In fact, as the infographic here shows, there have been periods when smoking rates began to rise again – notably in the 1990s when action on smoking was neglected:


This graphically demonstrates the power – and the necessity – of continued, effective action to combat smoking. Action like standardised packaging.

In March last year, the Independent Chantler Review of the evidence for the standardised packaging, concluded that “…branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption”.

So the scientific consensus is, it works. But will it wash with the public? The opponents of standard packs have called this into question. But in turn, others have questioned the independence of these voices.

Political support

Our new poll sheds some light on this. The new data clearly show that public support for standardised packaging is at its highest levels yet.

This lends more pressure to that exerted by both the growing evidence base, and the 4000 medical and health professionals who signed an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, calling for standardised cigarette packs to be approved before the General Election.

Though the issue has become the topic of much political debate, our poll, conducted in collaboration with YouGov, shows that (based on voting intention) the measure has extensive cross-party support: 75 per cent Conservative, 75 per cent Labour, 80 per cent Lib Dem and 64 per cent of UKIP. Introducing standard packs is also backed by the Green Party:


Standard packs support

In light of such extensive and broad support, what of the opposition to the measure?

Nothing – neither the indisputable scale of death and disease caused by tobacco use; nor the wealth of peer-reviewed, independent research, nor the positive impact that standard packs have made in Australia – contributing to record low tobacco consumption – has stemmed the industry’s fierce opposition.

Their business operates in fundamental conflict to the aims of public health and so their prerogative will be to sour measures backed by the health community.

A spokesperson for the tobacco-industry funded group Hands Off Our Packs (HOOPs) described the comparison between existing cigarette packs and standardised variants as “like showing a picture of a Lamborghini and a beaten up Ford Escort and saying which one do you prefer?” To steal a quote from an advert from one tobacco company – which was incidentally ruled to be misleading – we couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Next steps…

So what steps are left to get standard packs on the shelves?

  • Last night’s announcement means regulations for standardised packaging will be laid in this Parliament
  • This means that Members of Parliament will be given the opportunity to vote on the measure before the end of this Parliament in March
  • Separately, Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will need to confirm that they consent to regulations applying in their respective countries
  • If MPs in Westminster vote “yes”, and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Ministers give their backing, plans for implementing the measure can be agreed
  • All this means that standardised tobacco packs could be on the shelves from May 2016

So as we move closer still to a final, decisive vote, it’s becomes clear that the protests of an industry motivated by profits have failed to either undermine the wealth of scientific evidence, the conclusive public opinion, or break the resolve of our partners, supporters and Ambassadors who have fought tirelessly for so long.

And although it’s just another small step towards the ultimate goal, we’re over the moon about it.

Chris Woodhall is a Senior Policy Officer in our Cancer Prevention department