Cigarettes are being sold in standardised green packaging bearing graphic warnings of the dangers of smoking from Friday, under new rules designed to prevent young people taking up the habit.
The companies now have a year to sell old stock and fully implement the changes under the directive, which was adopted in 2014 but has been held up by a series of court cases testing its legality.
It includes a ban on menthol cigarettes from 2020 and promotional statements such as “this product is free of additives” or “is less harmful than other brands”.
The new rules are an attempt to cut the number of smokers across the EU by 2.4 million.
But just what do the rules mean?
Q. What is standardised packaging?
A. Standardised packaging is free of anything that can promote the product or make it attractive, and is consistent across all brands.
It prohibits branding other than the product name, which is restricted to a standard font, size and colour, as well as trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics.
Q. What does the new tobacco packaging look like?
A. All packaging not already covered in warnings, which must take up 65% of the front and back of packs, must be the same dull green colour, called Pantone 448C.
Graphic images of health conditions caused by smoking combined with text dominate the pack.
The name of the brand and product appears underneath in a regulated font designed to be less noticeable than the warnings.
All packs must be cuboid in shape and contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes, to allow room for the warnings, while hand-rolled tobacco must also be packaged in the standard green colour and contain a minimum of 30g.
Q. Why is standardised packaging being introduced here?
A. Smoking is the number one cause of preventable early death, and 100,000 people in the UK die every year from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Every year in the UK around 200,000 children start smoking – enough to fill 6,900 classrooms. Health charities say that if just a fraction of these children are discouraged from taking up smoking as a result of standardised packaging, it will save thousands of lives.
A review of evidence of standardised packaging carried out by the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing found that standard packs are less appealing, make health warnings more effective and reduce the ability of the packaging to minimise the harms of smoking.
Q. Has it worked elsewhere?
A. Standardised packaging was introduced in Australia in December 2012, where figures from the National Drugs Strategy Household Surveys have shown that the prevalence of smoking among adults fell by 15 per cent in the second half of 2013, from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent.
In the UK, an independent review conducted for the government by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler found it “highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking”.
Q. Why are the old packs still on sale?
A. Tobacco companies and shops have a year to sell old stock and fully implement the changes, after which time they will face severe penalties for flouting the rules.
Q. What happened when tobacco companies tried to stop the move?
A. A last ditch legal challenge against the Government’s new plain packaging rules failed at the High Court on Thursday when a judge rejected a judicial review action brought against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt by four of the world’s biggest firms.