WHO global health days

Frequently asked questions: Plain packaging of tobacco products


31 May 2016

About plain packaging

1. What is plain packaging?

The Guidelines for Implementation of Article 11 (Packaging and labelling of tobacco products) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) define plain packaging as “measures to restrict or prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style (plain packaging)”.

The Guidelines for Implementation of Article 13 (Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship) describe plain packaging in the following terms:

  • black and white or two other contrasting colours, as prescribed by national authorities;
  • nothing other than a brand name, a product name and/or manufacturer’s name, contact details and the quantity of product in the packaging, without any logos or other features apart from health warnings, tax stamps and other government-mandated information or markings;
  • prescribed font style and size; and
  • standardized shape, size and materials:
  • There should be no advertising or promotion inside or attached to the package or on individual cigarettes or other tobacco products.

2. What is standardized packaging?

The phrase ‘standardized packaging’ is used interchangeably with ‘plain packaging’. Some prefer the phrase standardized packaging on the basis that plain packaging, when used in conjunction with large graphic health warnings, is not actually plain.

WHO uses the phrase plain packaging because that is the language used in Guidelines to Articles 11 and 13 of the WHO FCTC.

3. Is plain packaging the same as large graphic health warnings?

No. Large graphic health warnings are a separate policy that may be implemented alongside plain packaging. The purpose of large graphic health warnings is to warn consumers of the risks associated with tobacco use.

4. What are the goals of plain packaging?

Plain packaging is a demand reduction measure that serves several purposes, including:

  • Reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products.
  • Eliminating the effects of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and promotion.
  • Addressing package design techniques that may suggest that some products are less harmful than others.
  • Increasing the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings.

Because plain packaging builds upon other tobacco control measures, it is recommended that plain packaging be used as part of a comprehensive multisectoral approach to tobacco control.