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Forest demands "root and branch" review of tobacco regulations

Wed 16th May, 2018

Forest has called for an independent "root and branch" review of the impact of all tobacco regulations introduced in the UK since 2010, including plain packaging and the behind-the-counter display ban.

It follows evidence that smoking levels have gone up since the introduction of plain packaging and other measures this time last year.

According to independent research, recent statistics suggest that smoking rates in England were higher than for the same time last year before plain packaging was fully implemented on 20th May 2017.

The figures, published this week by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, follows evidence that plain packaging has also failed to reduce smoking rates in Australia and France.

In 2012 Australia became the first country in the world to impose standardised packaging on tobacco products. Five years after its implementation, data published by the Australian government showed that the measure had made no significant difference to the daily smoking rate. 

Instead low priced cigarettes doubled their market share between 2011 and 2016 (from 29% to 60%) at the expense of medium and high priced cigarettes (from 19% to 10%) as people switched to cheaper brands. 

France introduced plain packaging of tobacco products in January 2017. One year later data published by the public authority OFDT showed that the number of cigarettes shipped to retailers remained largely unchanged, with a decrease of just 0.7 percent in 2017. 

The failure of plain packaging to reduce smoking prevalence in France was acknowledged by health minister Agnès Buzyn during a parliamentary debate.

According to the minister, plain packaging “does not lead smokers to quit smoking”. She added that she didn’t know if the introduction of plain packaging in France “has been effective in preventing youth from starting smoking”.

As well as plain packaging, May 2017 also saw the introduction of other tobacco control measures. The European Commission's revised Tobacco Products Directive forced all EU members states to adopt larger health warnings and prohibit the sale of smaller packs of cigarettes and rolling tobacco. A ban on menthol cigarettes will follow in 2020.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: "The experience of Australia, France and Britain suggests that plain packaging doesn't lead to a decline in smoking rates.

"Governments blunder on from one tobacco control measure to another, regardless of their impact.

"It's time for an independent root and branch review of all the tobacco control measures introduced since 2010, including plain packaging and the behind-the-counter display ban."

He added: "The failure of plain packaging is an indictment of the haste with which the policy was pushed through parliament before the 2015 general election.

"Plain packaging has nothing to do with health. The decision to introduce it in the UK was based not on evidence that it would reduce smoking rates but on party politics.

"It wasn't right then and it isn't right now." 

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