Smoking debate: Are plain packets a bad idea?

Have your say

Some claim that fancy packaging for cigarettes is a ploy by the industry to hook more smokers, while some object to this view being enshrined in law. Here are two sides of the argument



Chris Snowdon

Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute and author of The Art of Suppression

Plain packaging is a further move towards what the artist David Hockney describes as the “uglification of


Just as millions of superfluous No Smoking signs bludgeon smokers with reminders of their deviancy, so too will plain packaging and retail display bans marginalise 12 million people while softening up the rest for the neo-prohibitionists’ unconcealed “endgame” of total prohibition.

The case for viewing cigarette packaging as a form of advertising is spurious and the claim that brand recognition encourages participation is extraordinarily weak. I am aware of the brands Tampax and Winalot, but this does not tempt me to purchase either.

Perhaps the next stage of the anti-tobacco campaign will involve the abolition of brand names in their entirety.

Rather than helping people make informed decisions, it seems that the overriding goal of plain packaging is to annoy the tobacco industry, inconvenience retailers and stigmatise consumers. Few of us will feel especially sympathetic towards the cigarette companies, but hard cases make bad law and the senseless trampling on property rights, along with the likelihood of further “mission creep”, has implications that go far beyond tobacco.

Despite the absence of evidence that plain packaging will do any good and the likelihood that it will do harm, campaigners will claim that the policy will at least “send a message”.

Indeed it will, but it will not be the message the anti-smoking lobby has in mind. The real message that will be sent if the plain packaging advocates prevail is that there is no policy too preposterous that it cannot be enshrined in law on the cynical and disingenuous pretext of protecting children.

It will be the triumph of a dogmatic minority over a government which claims to be opposed to “unnecessary legislation” and “excessive regulation”.

It will send a message that laws masquerading as public health initiatives are no longer constrained by evidence, reason or common sense. Indiscriminate, frivolous and illiberal, the endorsement of plain packaging will serve to confirm the old adage that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.



President of ASH (Action on Smoking & Health) Scotland.

After four months of heated debate and argument the government consultation on plain packaging for tobacco products is over. Those supporting plain packs include health charities, medical professionals, youth groups, children’s organisations and public health 

The tobacco industry and those lobbying on its behalf have thrown millions of pounds into spreading doubt about the effectiveness of plain packs. One national newspaper advertising campaign claimed the evidence would fit on the back of a cigarette packet. Yet a comprehensive review of 37 published studies that accompanied the consultation found “strong evidence . . . that plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products”. That’s some cigarette packet.

There has been strong public support for plain packaging, with a recent YouGov poll showing 64 per cent of Scots backing the measure and only 11 per cent opposing. Even smokers supported plain packs by two to one. Across the UK more than 200,000 individuals have indicated support through the Plain Packs Protect website. So why support plain packs? Roughly 40 young people in Scotland become new smokers every day. The tobacco industry targets young people as replacement smokers for those who quit or die. The earlier someone takes up smoking, the likelier they are to suffer ill health in life and find it harder to quit. Reducing the attractiveness of packs will help prevent young people from starting in the first place.

This support couldn’t be timelier. On Wednesday this week, the Australian High Court will make a decision on whether to uphold the country’s world-leading plain packs law, passed in November last year. Four big tobacco companies, British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International have claimed the move is “unconstitutional”. Phillip Morris even wanted to “deny the contents” of the barrow loads of health evidence showing smoking causes cancer lodged by the federal 

Plain packaging is a child protection measure. It reflects a desire to put the health and lives of people above the profits of the tobacco industry. As Australia prepares to lead the way on this I want to see Scotland follow close behind.


THE UK Government has extended by a month consultations to introduce mandatory plain packaging for tobacco products.

The proposal, which has attracted strong interest from the public, could mean homogenising cigarette packets so only the name and warnings are visible. When the consultation was launched four months ago, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said he wanted tobacco companies to have “no business” in the UK.

The government said it would make a decision when the responses to the consultation had been considered.

Australia is currently the only country which has agreed to plain packaging.