In May 2017, it became illegal for shops, cigarette manufacturers and individuals to sell cigarettes and rolling tobacco in packages which displayed colours, logos, pictures and any other graphics which helped a customer identify a brand or variant. All boxes must follow a simple template. Over 80% warning labels and pictures, a dark green box, a barcode and simple plain white text which only stated the name of the brand and below it the name of the variant.
This is arguably the most controlling measure regarding tobacco in recent times, the most comparable being the prohibition of advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies which took place across the western world in the 1980s,90s and early 2000s.
These rules came into place accompanied by another rule which was that cigarettes could only be sold in a box of 20 or more and a tobacco pouch could only be 30g or more. By 2020 there will be a ban on flavoured cigarettes, including menthol, which means very popular cigarettes which have ‘click’ filters and have ‘green’ in the title will be banned.
A quick run-down on recent changes in tobacco sale legislation is below:
- May 2015, Shops must have their cigarette displays covered with a door, so that customers cannot see them, they can only be opened when being restocked.
- October 2007, the legal age for buying Tobacco went from 16 to 18.
- July 2007, smoking in any public building became illegal. This includes Pubs, Clubs and Bars. This is a contributing factor to the flailing pub sector in the UK, this accompanied a ban on cigarette vending machines.
- These are in addition to the constant price rising and taxation of cigarettes and the number of people who smoke has continued to fall.
Many people argue that the new tobacco rules have done little to prevent people from smoking, and may even be having the opposite effect.
The arguments for the new rules
- The plain packaging will put people off. The colours of the box, the warning labels and the horrible pictures are enough to discourage people from smoking.
- The larger pack sizes mean anyone that wants a ‘cheeky smoke’ will be discouraged from buying cigarettes because they must invest a minimum of around £7 in most shops.
- The sale of menthol cigarettes is likely to stop attracting a base of customers.
The arguments against the new rules
- Smokers used to limit themselves to 10 cigarettes a day by buying smaller packs, now they have 20 cigarettes, so this means they will be tempted to smoke more.
- People who are addicted to cigarettes aren’t put off my extortionate prices, horrific adverts and pictures, warning labels or being excluded from public places, they’re not going to be put off by yet another measure against their habit.
- The measures are likely to raise the level of fake tobacco manufactured in uncontrolled conditions with no self-extinguishing rolling papers and completely uncontrolled ingredients.
- It is also going to increase the level of European smuggled tobacco from places like Belgium, Spain and Eastern Europe. These cigarettes are cheaper, do not have plain packaging and may have different flavours due to the lower controls on ingredients, making these increasingly attractive to the smokers.
- Personally, I have seen an increase in a number of empty cigarette packets thrown on the floor which has warning labels written in varying foreign languages.
My personal view is that the plain packaging may discourage young people taking up smoking, because the colours and pictures present them as something dangerous and off-putting, but at the same time it will raise the number of illegal cigarettes on the streets, which means children may be able to get their hands on illegal tobacco much more easily.When I was a child, I used to be fascinated by the colourful boxes behind the till in my local shop, thinking they were similar to sweets or toys due to the colours.
But, from the perspective of someone who works in behind a till at a convenience store, plain packaging has made my life more difficult because finding a cigarette much more difficult.
A paper which I found quite interesting and helpful towards this article is is this one by ASH. http://ash.org.uk/download/key-dates-in-the-history-of-anti-tobacco-campaiging/