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More information and evidence : Cancer Research UK

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More information and evidence

Plain packaging is a really important step in protecting young people from tobacco marketing. Now that advertising tobacco is illegal, the tobacco industry is relying more and more on stylish tobacco packs to recruit new smokers. With eight out of ten smokers starting by the age of 19, plain packs will take us one step closer to a future where people don’t start smoking in the first place.

For more details on plain packaging, download our Facts and Fiction document or our report ‘The packaging of tobacco products


What are plain packs?What plain packs will look like in Australia

Plain packaging means all cigarette packs look the same. They are packaged in a standard shape without branding, design or a logo. Pictured (right) is an example of the packs Australia plans to introduce.

  • Health warnings will remain
  • Brand name in will be in a standard type face, colour and size
  • The shape, colour and method of opening the packet will be standardised
  • The duty paid stamp will remain with covert markings that show the pack is not counterfeit
  • Cigarettes are also standardised in size and colour

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Why are plain packs needed?

Plain packaging is needed to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products to children. The evidence demonstrates that tobacco branding works in three key ways:

  • Packets are designed to be attractive and communicate the ‘personality’ of a brand. They can act as ‘badge products’ and an extension of a person’s identity
  • Lighter packaging colours mislead customers, suggesting some products are healthier than others
  • Packets with branding reduce the prominence and effectiveness of health warnings

Eight out of ten smokers start by the age of 19. 1 Addiction keeps them smoking into adulthood where it kills one in two long-term users. 2 Marketing is known to pull children into smoking; 3 and the pack is just another marketing tool. 4 Children should be protected from the marketing of a highly addictive and seriously harmful product. Plain packaging would play an important role in this protection.

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Watch our campaign video and find out how it was made

The video is completely unscripted and shows the children’s genuine reactions to the packs. We worked with two schools to make this happen, both of which are very supportive of the campaign.

We filmed in the schools and with pairs of friends to make sure that the children were as comfortable and relaxed as possible. The professionals who led the interviews started by asking them to talk about cereal packs to get them used to describing their feelings and impressions of packaging, before showing them the empty or sealed cigarette packs.

Full parental consent was given before the filming and the parents were given a dedicated contact at the charity for any questions they might have. After the filming each child received a talk and information pack about the dangers of smoking.

A huge thank you to all of the families and both of the schools involved for their ongoing support.

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Why are branded packets so powerful?

Branded packs convey the pack’s personality and allow the tobacco industry to target specific audiences, whether that’s bright, slim packs aimed at young women or bold assertive packs aimed at men. Since tobacco advertising became illegal in 2002, tobacco companies have relied more on tobacco packets to sell their deadly products.

As an Executive from Philip Morris, a large tobacco company, said in an internal presentation: ‘Our final communication vehicle with our smokers is the pack itself. In the absence of any other marketing messages, our packaging… is the sole communicator of our brand essence. Put another way: When you don’t have anything else, our packaging is our marketing.’ 5

The colours of some packs are also designed to make them look healthier than others. Studies have shown that adults and young people (11-17) are much more likely to rate silver or gold packs as lower tar, lower health risk and easier to quit in the case of adults. 6 7 8

Below is a small selection of the packs currently on sale.

A selection of current cigarette packs

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What evidence is there that plain packets will make smoking less appealing?

Top quality evidence shows that putting cigarettes in plain, standardised packs makes them less attractive to children. This is why we’ve taken a strong stance in favour of introducing plain packaging in the UK, as have other health experts, including the World Health Organisation. 9

A total of 37 key studies, that all meet stringent methodological and relevant criteria, have shown that plain packaging is an effective tobacco control measure. The Department of Health commissioned a systematic review on plain packaging 10 involving leading Cancer Research UK researchers. All 19 quantitative studies examining the attractiveness of plain packs found they were less attractive than branded equivalent packs. Thirteen studies examined perceptions of smoker identity and personality attributes associated with plain packs. Plain packs consistently received lower ratings on projected personality attributes (such as ‘popular’ and ‘cool’) than branded packs. The Cancer Research UK funded Centre for Tobacco Control Research has brought together the evidence on plain packs.11

Cancer Research UK’s vision is to beat cancer, and when we have clear evidence that a measure will help reduce smoking rates, we have a duty to act. This is a vital public health issue that we’re proud to champion.

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Are plain packs a popular option?

In a YouGov survey eight out of ten people said that they would support plain packaging if there was evidence that they are less attractive than branded packs.12

The campaign for plain packaging is supported by a coalition of organizations including: Cancer Research UK, British Hearth Foundation, Asthma UK, The British Medical Association, British Lung Foundation, ASH, Smokefree South West, Royal College of Physicians and The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

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Does it matter if I’m a smoker?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a smoker or not, this campaign isn’t about telling people to quit, it’s about stopping the next generation from starting in the first place.

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Why now?

The government held a UK-wide public consultation on the plain packaging of tobacco products which ran from April to August 2012.Throughout this consultation, Cancer Research UK, along with our partners in the Smokefree Action Coalition, called for the plain, standardised packaging of tobacco. Our campaign ‘The answer is plain’ received over 78,000 actions and on 27 June over 70 of our Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors joined us in Westminster to lobby their MPs. Our campaign video ‘‘The answer is plain’ has also had over 245,000 views.

We are now awaiting the outcome of the consultation and are hoping that the government legislates for plain packaging as soon as possible, to help prevent children from taking up smoking. The Government must not delay bringing in plain packaging legislation – when 100,000 deaths a year are due to tobacco , missing an opportunity to help reduce smoking has very serious costs.

There will be ways to get involved in the campaign in the future. Please fill in our quick form to express your interest and we’ll keep you in the loop as the campaign progresses

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Will plain packaging apply to roll-up tobacco and cigars?

Yes, plain packaging would apply to all tobacco products, this includes roll-up tobacco and cigars.

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1.    Goddard E. (2008). General Household Survey 2006: Smoking and drinking among adults 2006. Office for National Statistics, Newport.


3.    For a discussion, see Chapter 2 of: Hastings, G et al. (2008) Point of Sale Display of Tobacco Products. The Centre for Tobacco Control Research, University of Stirling.

4.    Hastings G, Galopel-Morvan K, Rey JM. The plain truth about tobacco packaging. Tobacco Control 2008;17:361-362

5.    Speech notes from T.E. Sandefur, President of Brown and Williamson (a subsidiary of British American Tobacco), 1985. Bates no. 52001904/1918. Available at:

6.    Hammond D, Dockrell M, Arnott D, Lee A, McNeill A. Cigarette pack design and perceptions of risk among UK adults and youth Eur J Public Health. 2009 Dec;19(6):631-7.

7.    Hammond D, Parkinson C. The impact of cigarette package design on perceptions of risk. Journal of Public Health (Oxford). 2009 Sep;31(3):345-53

8.    Hastings G, Galopel-Morvan K, Rey JM. The plain truth about tobacco packaging. Tobacco Control 2008;17:361-362

9.    Chan, M. ‘Chan to world: Stand with Australia’. 22 March 2012. Available at:

10. Hastings et al. ‘Plain tobacco packaging : A systematic review’. Public Health Research Consortium.

11. Ford, A. ‘The packaging of tobacco products’. Cancer Research UK: London. 2012. Available at:

12. Action on Smoking and Health. ‘Public support for putting products in plain packaging’ (2011).

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