WHO global health days

Frequently asked questions: Plain packaging of tobacco products


FAQs on implementation

5. Is plain packaging included in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control?

Yes. Guidelines for Implementation of Articles 11 and 13 of the WHO FCTC recommend that Parties consider adoption of plain packaging.

These Guidelines need to be viewed in their broader context. The WHO FCTC obliges Parties to implement “effective measures” to ensure that:

  • tobacco packaging and labelling do not promote tobacco products by means that are false, misleading or deceptive (Article 11.1(a)); and
  • packaging carries health warnings describing the harmful effects of tobacco use (Article 11.1(b)).
  • Article 13 also obliges Parties to undertake a comprehensive ban (or restrictions) on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

6. Where has plain packaging been implemented?

Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging in December 2012.

Ireland, France and the United Kingdom have passed laws to begin implementing plain packaging from May 2016. (Sell through periods mean that packs will not appear in stores immediately and, in the case of Ireland, implementation may be delayed.)

7. Which countries is plain packaging good for? Is plain packaging only for developed countries?

WHO recommends that plain packaging be implemented as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control. This includes comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship as well as other tobacco packaging and labelling measures, such as health warnings.

Plain packaging is a suitable policy for any country implementing a comprehensive approach to tobacco control. Developed countries have taken the lead in designing and implementing plain packaging measures and other countries, including developing countries, will benefit from their experience.

8. Which products should plain packaging be applied to?

The best practice is to apply plain packaging to all categories of tobacco products. The Article 11 and 13 Guidelines make no distinction between tobacco product categories.

9. Is there evidence that plain packaging works?

Yes. A strong evidence base supports implementation of plain packaging. This evidence base includes a large body of peer reviewed studies that have been the subject of three systematic reviews (two in the United Kingdom and one in Ireland).

This evidence supports the conclusion that plain packaging:

  • reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products
  • restricts use of the pack as a form of advertising and promotion
  • limits misleading packaging, and
  • increases the effectiveness of health warnings.

It is too early to measure the full impact of plain packaging in Australia, and it is often difficult to isolate the impact of individual measures. Nonetheless, the evidence from Australia is consistent with the conclusion that plain packaging is working.

Studies have shown increased urgency among smokers to quit,(1) increased calls to the Quitline (2) and increased quit attempts.(3) Fewer consumers (wrongly) believe that brands differ in harmfulness and there are indicators that health warnings have become more effective among smokers.(4)

Australia’s post-implementation review found that introduction of plain packaging together with introduction of larger health warnings and new warnings had reduced smoking prevalence in Australia beyond the pre-existing downward trend. Specifically, the report estimated that between December 2012 and September 2015 “the 2012 packaging changes reduced average smoking prevalence among Australians aged 14 years and over by 0.55 percentage points”.(5)

According to the model, if these changes to packaging had not been introduced average smoking prevalence in the post-implementation period would have been 17.77% rather than 17.21%. This effect on smoking prevalence is expected to grow over time.


References

(1) Wakefield MA, Hayes L, Durkin S, Borland R. Introduction effects of the Australian plain packaging policy on adult smokers: a cross-sectional study. 3 BMJ Open, 2013; 3: e003175.

(2) Young JM, Stacey I, Dobbins TA, Dunlop S, Dessaix AL, Currow DC. Association between tobacco plain packaging and Quitline calls: a population-based, interrupted time-series analysis. MJA, 2014; 200:29–32.

(3) Durkin S, Brennan E, Coomber K, Zacher M, Scollo M, Wakefield M. Short-term changes in quitting-related cognitions and behaviours after the implementation of plain packaging with larger health warnings: findings from a national cohort study with Australian adult smokers. Tobacco Control, 2015; 24:ii26 – ii32.

(4) Wakefield M, Coomber K, Zacher M, Durkin S, Brennan E, Scollo M. Australian adult smokers’ responses to plain packaging with larger graphic health warnings 1 year after implementation: results from a national crosssectional tracking survey. Tobacco Control 2015; 24:ii17–ii25, p. 21.

(5) Post-Implementation Review Tobacco Plain Packaging, 2016, Australian Government, Department of Health, 26 February 2016, https://ris.govspace.gov.au/files/2016/02/Tobacco-Plain-Packaging-PIR.pdf, paragraph 107.