The introduction of plain cigarette packaging is back on the political agenda in England. The government has launched an independent review with the possibility of the introduction of uniform packaging in 2015, following the Australian government’s decision to introduce uniform packaging back in December 2012.

During the transition from glitzy to dull packaging, research showed those smoking plain packaged cigarettes were 81% more likely to have thought about quitting and 70% more likely to say they found cigarettes less satisfying. But has it cut smoking rates? Are fewer children taking up the habit? The results are unclear.

The term ‘plain packaging’ is slightly misleading. The government want to replace company logos with plain background colours and increase the size of graphic health warnings on both sides of the packet.

The proposal is based on the idea that children (and even some adults) are attracted to colourful packaging, so without branding fewer people will be tempted to purchase cigarettes.

It sounds as though a potential threat to Intellectual Property Rights is on the horizon. British American Tobacco have argued that prohibiting the use of trademarks on tobacco products’ packaging would:

  • Be an unlawful interference with the European Convention of Human Rights to freedom of speech of manufacturers and consumers of tobacco products;
  • Constitute a barrier to the functioning of the internal market and free movement of goods, contrary to EU law; and
  • Undermine the very basis upon which intellectual property rights are created and protected internationally, with implications far beyond the tobacco industry.”

However, it seems as though the government has ignored this argument as of yet.

Marlboro’s distinct red and white box is one of the world’s most renowned brands – some estimating it as one of the 10 most-recognised consumer products. However, this may soon become taboo. Instead, those seeking the red chevron will find nothing but the drab wrappers mandated for all cigarettes, along with warning labels, the brand name in small-print and, of course, a large photo of a gangrenous foot.


The decision may begin with cigarette packaging, but who is to say that it won’t encourage restrictions on the advertising and packaging of other unhealthy products. Next we’ll have photos of ‘moobs’ on chocolate bars and pâté livers on beer cans.

Alex Salmond’s Scottish government plans to introduce plain packaging in 2015 and the Republic of Ireland has also begun the process of also following Australia’s lead.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. In fact, I think they should make the packaging monotone and provide colouring pencils.