Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Victory for public health campaigners as plain packaging nears full implementation

In 2016, the government passed plain cigarette packaging legislation. The new law stated that packaging for cigarettes must have a standardised size, shape, and shade of green. The boxes must also carry health warnings which cover at least 65% of the surface area.

This was fantastic news for anti-tobacco industry lobbyists and public health campaigners. In the North East of England, it is predicted that the average smoker starts at the age of 15. At that age, being cool is often considered to be important and smoking can be perceived as the chic thing to do because of the glamorisation of smoking through fancy packaging. Plain packaging aims to prevent this.

Unsurprisingly, cigarette manufacturers were less pleased about the new laws. Last May, they accused the health minister of introducing these new regulations unlawfully. However, the high court and the court of appeal have since ruled against these claims.

A loophole was exploited in the plain packaging law though. Companies were allowed to sell cigarettes which don’t have the new packaging as long as they were produced before 20 May 2016. This caused cigarette manufacturers to ramp up production so they had a large amount stock to sell off before the law was implemented.

Another tactic that the cigarette manufacture Imperial employed involved applying stickers to the standardised packs to make them look more appealing. They argued that this technically was not part of the manufacturing process however a legal expert disagreed.

Ultimately, this is win for public health campaigners. Despite creative efforts from the cigarette companies and spending large sums of money on legal hours in attempt to stop the legislation, plain packaging is now almost universal everywhere. All non-standardised cigarette packaging produced before 20 May 2016 must be sold off by 20 May 2017 meaning that fancy cigarette packaging will gradually become increasingly rare as the dark green boxes finish phasing in.