Britain mulling on cigarette plain packaging to discourage smoking

Britain wishes to follow Australia’s footsteps in banning all eye-catching designs and branding from cigarette packs to stop young people being lured into smoking. Australia meanwhile is poised to become the first nation to introduce so-called “plain” packaging on tobacco products by the end of 2012. The packs will show graphic health warnings about smoking but banish attractive colors and logos. The proposed law was cleared by parliament in November and is being closely watched by governments considering similar moves in Europe, Canada and New Zealand.

A survey by the British Heart Foundation charity released on Thursday found that more than a quarter of young people make assumptions about the relative harm of cigarettes based on the packaging alone. The survey, which collated responses from more than 2,700 16 to 25 year-old smokers and non-smokers, found that three quarters of those who responded thought selling cigarettes in packs with no colorful brands or logos, and larger health warnings, would make it easier for people to smoke less or quit. One in six, or 16 percent, said they would consider the pack design when deciding which cigarettes to buy, and 12 percent said they would choose a brand because it was considered 'cool'. In total, 69 per cent of the young people surveyed - including non-smokers - agreed that cigarette packaging was a form of advertising.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley says he is eager to cut the number of young people who take up smoking. Smoking-related illnesses kill 80,000 Britons a year and Lansley has said dissuading people from taking up the habit is a public health priority. Government data show some 200,000 children and young people in England start smoking each year and more than two thirds of Britain's 10 million smokers started before they turned 18.

Experts say half of all smokers will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease and the World Health Organization (WHO) describes tobacco as “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced.” Smoking causes lung cancer, which is often fatal, and other chronic respiratory diseases. It is also a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the world's number one killer.

The British government is due to start a public consultation early in 2012 on whether the nation should switch to plain packaging for tobacco. “As informed adults we know that smoking is a deadly addiction,” said Betty McBride, British Heart Foundation - BHF's director of policy and communications. “But young people are not always fully aware of the risks, and the power of branding holds more sway.”

Tobacco advertising is banned in the UK, but campaigners say the fact that tobacco companies can still use their packs to promote their brand is “an absurd loophole” in the law. “The tobacco industry takes full advantage ... to lure in new young smokers,” McBride said.

The plain packaging wave has displeased cigarette makers and three of the world's four largest tobacco firms, Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco are fighting it in Australia's High Court. The lobby group Forest, Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, argued that the introduction of plain packs would have little impact on the number of young people who start smoking.

Simon Clark, director, said, “There is no evidence that plain packs will make any difference to youth smoking rates. The vast majority of young people are influenced not by packaging but by peer pressure and the fact that members of their family are smokers. Tens of millions of people have been exposed to branded cigarette packaging for decades and have never been encouraged to start smoking. To suggest that people are so easily influenced by the sight of a colored pack is not only patronizing, it's downright offensive.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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