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Plain packaging is a key tobacco control measure that is seeing significant and growing international momentum. Four countries have required plain packaging, and at least 14 are working on it.

The new EU Tobacco Products Directive expressly provides that plain packaging is an option for the EU’s 28 member countries. At COP7, Sri Lanka’s president announced that the country’s health minister was bringing forward a plain packaging proposal.

The fifth edition of the Canadian Cancer Society report Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report launched at COP7, provides an overview of the status of plain packaging worldwide.

Under plain packaging, health warnings remain on packages, but tobacco company branding, such as colours, logos and design elements are prohibited, and the brand portion of each package is required to be the same colour, such as an unattractive brown. The brand name still appears in a standard font size, style and location. The package format is standardised.

Plain packaging puts an end to packaging being used for product promotion, increases the effectiveness of package warnings, curbs package deception, reduces the appeal of tobacco products, and decreases tobacco use. FCTC Guidelines for implementing Articles 11 and 13 recommend that countries consider implementing plain packaging.

Plain packaging is supported by extensive evidence. The tobacco industry has strongly opposed plain packaging, a signal of just how important plain packaging is. If plain packaging were not effective, then why would the tobacco industry be so opposed?

Tobacco industry opposition in part has come through legal challenges, but the tobacco industry has lost five out of five court decisions: Australia (two cases, 2012, 2015); France (2016); United Kingdom (2016); and European Court of Justice (2016). As well, a legal claim against Uruguay’s significant packaging restrictions (though not plain packaging) was dismissed (2016).

Packages should not be used as mini-billboards to promote tobacco, or to convey that a brand has a “personality” or a lifestyle image.

Packages should not be sold in formats that undermine health warnings, or in special shapes such as superslim packs that associate smoking with fashionability, thinness
and weight loss.

In light of the compelling rationale for plain packaging, many more countries are expected to move this measure forward.

Plain packaging is the right thing to do, and is inevitable. The worldwide trend has become unstoppable.

Rob Cunningham
Canadian Cancer Society

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