11.10 Packaging as promotion: Evidence for and effects of plain packaging

Last updated: September 2017     

Suggested citation: Scollo, MM, Freeman, B, & Greenhalgh, EM. 11.10 Packaging as promotion: evidence for and effects of plain packaging. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2016. Available from: http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-11-advertising/11-10-tobacco-display-as-advertising1

This section explores the concept of packaging as a promotional tool (11.10.1 and 11.10.2). It summarises the history of plain packaging as a policy response (11.10.3 ). It briefly outlines research that suggests that plain packaging would increase the effectiveness of health warnings, reduce false health beliefs about cigarettes, and reduce brand appeal especially among youth and young adults (11.10.4). Section 11.10.5 describes the response to Australia's legislation mandating plain packaging and Subsection 11.10.6 discusses the main arguments against the legislation. Sections 11.10.7 to 11.10.9 set out major milestones in adoption of the legislation, legal challenges and international flow-on effects. Section 11.10.10 briefly describes initial responses by Australian tobacco companies observed during the implementation period to attempt to mitigate the impact of plain packaging legislation. Section 11.10.11 describes the implementation of the Act, while section 11.10.12 summarises research on the effects of plain packaging in Australia post-implementation.

11.10.1 The pack as a promotional tool

Packaging 'act(s) as a promotional tool in its own right.'
Palmer A. The product. In Palmer, AJ, eds, In: Principles of marketing. 2000 1 p215

'The package, sometimes referred to as the 'silent salesman', makes the final sales pitch, seals the commitment and gets itself placed in the shopping trolley.'
Underwood and Ozanne Journal of Marketing Communication 1998 2 p208

'… if you smoke, a cigarette pack is one of the few things you use regularly that makes a statement about you. A cigarette pack is the only thing you take out of your pocket 20 times a day and lay out for everyone to see. That's a lot different than buying your soap powder in generic packaging.'
Brown and Williamson employee 3 p5

The concept of a mix of marketing functions was conceived by Professor Neil Borden of the Harvard Business School. Perhaps the best known definition of this mix is that proposed by McCarthy who talked of the 'four Ps' of marketing.4 In the later years of the 20th century packaging increasingly has been regarded as a fifth 'P' in the marketing mix.5 Packaging differentiates brands, being particularly important in homogenous consumer products such as cigarettes.6 i It can also help to increase the appeal of the product. Colours and typeface have long been known to elicit particular responses in consumers, often shaped by strong social and cultural forces. Imagery and symbols also exert powerful effects, linking desirable attributes with particular brands. The world's most popular cigarette brand, Marlboro,7 can readily be identified through its iconic red chevron. Sociologically, a symbol acts as a stimulus eliciting a particular response based on people's understanding of meaning (see Jefkins, 1987, p298 8). The heraldic coat of arms on Benson and Hedges packs for instance is an abstract wordless symbol that imparts notions of status and attested quality.

With the advertising of tobacco increasingly banned in more and more forms throughout the world, the pack has fast become the most important promotional vehicle for reaching potential and current smokers.9–15

The Government of Norway introduced what was the world's most comprehensive ban on advertising in 1975, and yet a qualitative study conducted in 2003 of young adult Norwegian smokers aged 18–23 (born five to ten years after the ban came into place) highlights how tobacco products continue to be marketed to this demographic group through persuasive cigarette pack design. The study showed how cigarette brands and cigarette package designs give meaning to personal characteristics, to social identity and to positions in hierarchies of status. In the young smokers' accounts, brands appeared to add 'an extra dimension to the social meaning of smoking in their daily life'.16

More recently several nations have banned the open display of tobacco products in retail locations. These jurisdictions have reasoned:

'Power walls and counter top displays are highly visible and eye-catching. They present an unavoidable and unfortunate spill of promotional imagery and product reminders to vulnerable consumers including young people, former smokers … and smokers of all ages who are trying to quit.'
Health Canada Tobacco Control Programme, 2006 17 p8

With removal of point of sale as an opportunity for promotion Philip Morris predicted that, in the future, pack design alone will drive brand imagery.18 Unless governments impose further restrictions on packaging, bans on the retail display of tobacco will encourage a further shift in industry investment towards innovative pack design, with the pack functioning as one of the last remaining vehicles for product promotion.

A long-term panel study by Moodie and Hastings19 found that packaging has been a very strong theme in the tobacco trade press and that smokers have been particularly attentive to value-based packaging.

Pack design doesn't just communicate the 'personality' of a cigarette brand to the smoker, it also allows smokers to project these characteristics to others when they handle and display the package throughout their daily routines.15 Just as designer clothing, accessories and cars serve as social cues to style, status, values and character, so too can cigarette packs signify a range of attributes about users. As 'badge products', cigarettes can reinforce the characteristics conjured by brand image.3,15,20–23 This behaviour not only affects the single consumer but also exerts a powerful effect on their friends, associates and even casual contacts. Consumer theory and research has demonstrated that incidental consumer brand encounters (ICBEs) powerfully affect buying patterns in ways in which the consumer is not fully aware. A series of four studies by Ferraro, Bettmand and Chartrand published in the Journal for Consumer Research in 2008 for instance found that repeated exposure to simulated ICBEs:

'increases choice of the focal brand among people not aware of the brand exposure, that perceptual fluency underlies these effects and these effects are moderated by perceivers automatic responses to the type of user observed with the brand.'
Ferraro et al, Journal of Consumer Research 2008 24 p729

Hoek et al 25 describe the marketing literature concerning brands and the importance of brand imagery for young people in the process of shaping their public persona in the world. This process of identity creation allows tobacco manufacturers to sell status, social acceptance, glamour and adventure. Young people can use cigarettes to help convey these attributes as part of a social persona they wish to convey to their peers.16

Individuals who place a great deal of significance on the visual aesthetics of design—Bloch, Brunel and Arnold26 refer to this as the 'centrality of visual product aesthetics' (CVPA)—tend to be the people who set the trends in fashion, architecture and consumer goods. Branding and pack design would appear to be particularly important to young people.

'...young smokers in particular are packaging and design literate.'
Market researchers for Silk Cut brand Haslam Drury Partnership 27

Unique among industries, the tobacco industry has long claimed that it has no interest in attracting new customers (i.e. non-smokers) but is interested only in stimulating brand-switching and in maintaining brand loyalty in current customers.28 However internal industry documents candidly acknowledge the vital importance of attracting new (predominantly young) smokers.29–34 Young smokers are important to the long-term viability of the tobacco industry:

'Brands must have high penetration among young adult smokers, as success in this segment confirms a brand's image as 'younger' and ensures longer-term usage of the brand by those consumers.'
Lambat Tobacco Reporter, February 20077

11.10.2 Packaging to increase product appeal

In the early 1900s before the advent of television, collectable cigarette cards were a major form of in-pack promotion.35 In the latter decades of the 20th century tobacco companies recognised very quickly that greater attention would need to be paid to packaging in an environment where advertising was becoming increasingly restricted.36

'In a future where increasingly the product may have to sell itself through the pack, a fuller understanding of the way in which perception of such packs affects perception of their contents is desirable ... imagery powerfully and measurably modifies the perceived smoking characteristics of the cigarettes associated with it. Further research is intended to determine both underlying bases of pack image influence (e.g. colour, pattern, etc.) and levels of responsiveness within the consumer population to the influence of imagery.'
Ferris, British American Tobacco, 198036

Internal industry documents confirm that companies invested significant research effort into pack design in order to communicate specific messages to specific demographic groups, including young people.15,29,37 In the early 1990s a presenter addressing marketing staff at Philip Morris remarked that smokers:

'... are ready for change' and 'once exposed to innovative {packaging} especially young adults see their current packaging as dated and boring.'
Anon, 1992, Philip Morris document collection38 p2

The presenter went on to encourage…

'Packs aimed at younger women should be 'slick, sleek, flashy, glittery, shiny, silky, bold.'
Anon, 1992, Philip Morris document collection38 p9

The tobacco industry trade magazine, World Tobacco, contains numerous examples of frank appeals to manufacturers to utilise packaging as an advertising vehicle.12–14,39–42 Tobacco manufacturers are advised:

'if your brand can no longer shout from billboards, let alone from the cinema screen or the pages of a glossy magazine … it can at least court smokers from the retailer's shelf, or from wherever it is placed by those already wed to it.'
Eindhoven, World Tobacco 199910 p17

One packaging firm urged tobacco companies to skirt 'Draconian legislation' by using pack over-wrapping to create an in-store advertisement:

'Where cigarette advertising is banned by law' says the company, 'the retailer can 'quite coincidentally' stack up a kind of billboard using the products at the point of sale if, for example, the cigarette cartons of a particular brand bear different parts of an overall design, which complete a puzzle or a caption when stacked up.'
Anon, World Tobacco 2006 43 p38

Advances in printing technology enabled printing of on-pack imagery on the inner frame card,44 outer film and tear tape,42 and the incorporation of holograms, collectable art, metallic finishes,43 multi-fold stickers,13 photographs, and retro images in pack design. 45-47 One manufacturer commented in the trade press that:

'With the uptake of printed inner frame cards what we will increasingly see is the pack being viewed as a total opportunity for communications—from printed outer film and tear tape through to the inner frame and inner bundle. Each pack component will provide an integrated function as part of a carefully planned brand or information communications campaign.'
Mawditt, World Tobacco 2006 44 p37

Moodie and Hastings19,48 and Ford, Moodie and Hastings5 in a comprehensive report for the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Stirling49 document numerous changes in packaging evident in the British market following the introduction of legislation that banned print and outdoor advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Packaging strategies include:

  • value-based packaging
  • image-based packaging
  • novel or 'innovation' packaging
  • 'green' or environmentally sustainable packaging.

Examples of each form of packaging drawn from these papers are described in Chapter 10, Section 10.7, together with a number of Australian examples. This section also describes further trends in tobacco products and packaging, including those designed to overshadow or distract from consumer information (e.g. health warnings).

11.10.3 Plain packaging as a solution to the misleading and promotional power of packaging

The idea of plain packaging was first conceived in Canada in the late 1980s during a legal challenge to Canadian legislation banning tobacco advertising. Tobacco control advocates were struck by testimony of an Imperial Tobacco executive who agreed during questioning that smokers were generally unable to discriminate between brands when blind-tested and that packaging was vital.50

'It's very difficult for people to discriminate blind-tested. Put it in a package and put a name on it, then it has a lot of product characteristics.'
Aubin, British American Tobacco 198950 p1

This corroborated an earlier comment by a British American Tobacco official that:

'... one of every two smokers is not able to distinguish in blind (masked) tests between similar cigarettes … for most smokers and the decisive group of new, younger smokers, the consumer's choice is dictated more by psychological, image factors than by relatively minor differences in smoking characteristics.'
British American Tobacco 197851 p5

Proposals for plain packaging were put to governments on several occasions over the following two decades.

In its comprehensive review of the impact of tobacco promotion on tobacco use, the Department of Health's Toxic Substances Board recommended in 1989 that cigarettes be sold in New Zealand in white packs with simple black text and no colours or logos.52 New Zealand health advocates in 199052 noted that restrictions in tobacco advertising would only be partly successful as the 'pack itself is a powerful form of advertising'.52

In Australia in 1992, the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer recommended on the basis of its findings about the impact of packaging on the effectiveness of warnings that 'regulations be extended to cover the colours, design and wording of the entire exterior of the pack' (p18).53 In 1995, Canadians Cunningham and Kyle argued for the plain, 'generic' packaging of tobacco products, stressing that the pack was a key promotional vehicle and as such should be subject to the same controls that apply to all forms of tobacco advertising.54

Plain packaging was advocated by several New Zealand public health specialists in 2008.55 In 2008, the Australian national Preventative Health Taskforce included recommendations for plain packaging in its draft discussion paper outlining a range of possible measures to make Australia the healthiest country in the world by 2020.56,57 The proposal was included in the strategy released in 2009.58 Late in 2009, in an editorial concerning one of the numerous studies published between 2008 and 2011—see Section 11.10.4—Moodie and Hastings59 called for the introduction of plain packs of identical shape, method of opening, base colour, devoid of 'all' promotional items.

At their meeting 17–22 November 2008, Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control adopted guidelines on advertising and package labelling that recommend the use of plain packaging.60

Commentators suggested that plain packaging would require the removal of all brand imagery from cigarette packs, permitting manufacturers to only print the brand name in a mandated size, font and place, in addition to health warnings and other legally required product information such as toxic constituents, tax-paid seals, or package contents.54 The size and shape of the package would also need to be regulated in order to outlaw novelty pack shapes. All Australian states and territories already prohibit sale of single cigarettes and mandate the minimum number of cigarettes in a pack (20 cigarettes), reasoning that small packs, being less expensive, are more attractive to youth. Advocates argued that plain packaging should encompass pack interiors and the cigarette itself, given the demonstrated potential for manufacturers to use colours, bandings and markings and different length and gauges to make cigarettes more 'interesting' and appealing. Legislation to mandate plain packaging that covered all aspects of cigarette and pack design would, advocates argued, effectively standardise the appearance of all cigarette packages and cigarettes, greatly reducing the status-signalling roles and appeal of cigarettes.61

11.10.4 Predicted effects of plain packaging

As plain packaging has never before been legislated prior to 2011, evidence about the possible impact had been necessarily derived from experimental studies where subjects were typically presented with both branded and mocked-up plain packs and asked about associations and preferences.

In 1995, an expert panel provided to the Canadian Department of Health a comprehensive review of the likely effects of plain packaging entitled When Packages Can't Speak: Possible Impacts of Plain and Generic Packaging of Tobacco Products.62

To that time, four studies had been conducted on plain packaging of cigarettes: 

  • the so-called Marlboro study (Trachtenberg, 198763)
  • the New Zealand study (Beede and Lawson, 1991and 199264,65; Beede et al, 199066)
  • the Australian study (Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, 199267) and
  • the University of Toronto study (Centre for Health Promotion, 199368).

The expert panel found that all four studies produced some evidence to support the hypothesis that plain and generic packaging made cigarettes less attractive and appealing. No comparable study providing contrary evidence was known to exist.62

The research objectives of the Canadian expert panel were:

  • to assess the potential impact of plain and generic packaging of cigarettes on the likelihood of smoking uptake
  • to assess the potential impact of plain and generic packaging of cigarettes on the recognition and recall of health warning messages on cigarette packages
  • to assess the potential impact of plain and generic packaging of cigarettes on the likelihood of cessation of smoking
  • to evaluate alternative designs for plain and generic packaging of cigarettes in terms of their potential impact on the uptake or cessation of smoking
  • to project possible industry responses to plain and generic packaging by examining historical evidence and theory of competition regarding the actions of companies in industries characterized by increasing commoditisation.

To tackle these five overall objectives, the expert panel conceived, conducted and analysed findings of a battery of six different studies employing five methodological approaches.62  

Study Method
1) National Survey of Adolescents Survey - direct questioning / within-subject design
2) Word Image Survey Survey - direct questioning / within-subject design
3) Visual Image Experiment Experiment - direct questioning / within and between-subject design
4) Recall and Recognition Experiment Experiment - direct questioning / between-subject design
5) Conjoint Experiment Experiment - indirect questioning / within-subject design
6) Analysis of Industry Effects Analysis of precedents of industry competitive and strategy activities in commodity industries

The national survey of adolescents demonstrated that teenagers were highly aware of cigarette brands. Around 90% were able to recognise the two major Canadian brands even when brand names were removed from packaging, with experimenters on average able to recognise 2.9 brands and regular/frequent smokers 5.9 brands. For all brands, 'package approaches' were the first thing mentioned by the majority of respondents who correctly identified the brand as methods by which companies promoted awareness of brands. While teenagers rarely admit to the likelihood of promotional strategies affecting them, a surprisingly large proportion reported that having cigarettes available only in plain packaging would bother them a lot (23.8%). Many respondents believed that having cigarettes available only in plain and generic packages would have an effect on the number of teenagers who would start smoking. More than one third (35.8%) believed that a few less would start smoking and 13.5% believed that a lot fewer would start smoking. Almost forty per cent (38.2%) believed that plain packaging would prompt more teenagers to stop smoking.62

The word image survey aimed to assess the associations teenagers made about products and about smokers through comparing the packaging of a popular and less well-known brand to plain packaging. The current, branded packaging was associated with a more positive image than the plain white packaging. The researchers concluded that while plain packaging would not reduce the ability of teenagers to use cigarettes to convey an image of being a teen smoker, packaging cigarettes in plain and generic packages would reduce the abilities of brands to differentiate themselves from each other and therefore the ability to link personal image with the brand. To the extent that teens attempt to use a particular cigarette brand as a badge of their own self-image, a particular brand would become a less useful instrument.62,69

The visual image experiment indicated that teens are much less likely to associate specific brands with specific personal characteristics when packs are plain, and even less so when plain packs also featured a photo of a lung.62 The researchers conclude that:

Denuding cigarette packages of major elements of their brand markings (other than their name) appears to limit teenagers' capacity to associate specific images with specific brands. Under these circumstances, these brands lose their badge value and self-defining characteristics. When these characteristics represent key motivators in teenagers' decisions to smoke, then it seems reasonable to conclude that plain and generic packaging can be a useful strategy in attempting to demarket cigarettes to teenagers because it would make it more difficult to build or maintain brand equity.
Canadian Expert panel report 62 Section 6.3.4, p 101

The recall experiment found that at least one warning, 'Smoking can kill you,' was better remembered when it was on the plain package where the rest of the package had fewer 'competing' messages. The teens favourite brand, du Maurier, was recalled less when it was in a plain package as opposed to the familiar red package.

Conjoint analysis is a multivariate technique used specifically to understand how consumers develop preferences for products and services based on the simple premise that consumers evaluate the utility of a product or service idea (real or hypothetical) by combining the separate amounts of utility provided by each attribute. While price was found to be the most important contributor to decisions about smoking, researchers concluded that plain packaging would also influence decisions about uptake of smoking and quitting.

On the basis of a detailed analysis of the findings of all five of these studies—see chart 1, pages 152–5—the expert panel concluded:

'Virtually all the findings of these five studies converge on the following conclusions: Plain and generic packaging of tobacco products (all other things being equal), through its impact on image formation and retention, recall and recognition, knowledge, and consumer attitudes and perceived utilities, would likely depress the incidence of smoking uptake by non-smoking teens, and increase the incidence of smoking cessation by teen and adult smokers. This impact would vary across the population. The extent of change in incidence is impossible to assess except through field experiments conducted over time.'
Canadian Expert Panel report 62 p158

Since the Canadian expert review, further research has been conducted in Canada,70-74 Australia,75-80 the United Kingdom, 49,80-85 New Zealand25,86,87 France88 and Norway.89 This research has focussed on the effects of plain packaging on awareness, recall and impact of health warnings,65, 67, 73, 87 on perceptions of riskiness of tobacco products,7481 and of the appeal of brands and products.25, 64, 66, 70, 75-77, 84, 86, 88

In a review of evidence on the effects of plain packaging conducted up to 2009, Hammond concluded:90

'Tobacco packaging and labeling policies have emerged as prominent and cost-effective tobacco control measures. Although packaging policies have primarily focused on health warnings, there is growing recognition of the importance of packaging as a marketing tool for the tobacco industry. The current paper reviews evidence on the potential impact of standardizing the color and design of tobacco packages—so called 'plain' packaging. The evidence indicates three primary benefits of plain packaging: increasing the effectiveness of health warnings, reducing false health beliefs about cigarettes, and reducing brand appeal especially among youth and young adults. Overall, the research to date suggests that 'plain' packaging regulations would be an effective tobacco control measure, particularly in jurisdictions with comprehensive restrictions on other forms of marketing.'
Hammond, 2010 90 pS226

A systematic review of the literature including all of the studies above published up to 2011 and including a number of unpublished manuscripts (not cited here) was published in 2012 to assist the British government with consultation on its proposal to introduce standardised packaging in the United Kingdom.91 The literature review analyses the findings of 37 studies in detail and provides a full technical commentary on the strength of the evidence for plain packaging.

Findings of some of the major studies are described below. Effects of plain packaging on effectiveness of health warnings

Plain packaging research shows consistently that pack brand imagery distracts from and therefore reduces the impact of health warnings. Students have an enhanced ability to recall health warnings on plain packs.65, 73 Health warnings on plain packs are seen as being more serious than the same warnings on branded packs, suggesting that brand imagery diffuses the overall impact of health warnings.72 A multi-country survey examining the effectiveness of warnings showed that smokers in Canada, who were at the time of the study exposed to large, picture-based warnings, were significantly more likely to report thinking about the health risks of smoking, to stop themselves from having a cigarette, and to think about quitting because of the health warnings.92 The same study also showed that the larger and more prominent a health warning, the more likely it was to be recalled. Plain packaging would free up more space on the pack that could be used for larger health warnings and other consumer health information.

An eye-tracking study by Munafo and colleagues found that among non-smokers and non-daily cigarette smokers, plain packaging appeared to increase visual attention towards health warning information and away from brand information.82 Research commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing to assist with specification of design of plain packaging also detected greater attention to health warnings with increasingly plainer packaging.93 Effects of plain packaging on perceptions of harmfulness

Unregulated package colouring and imagery contributes to consumer misperceptions that 'light and mild' brands are safer.15,18,74,94 The colour of the pack is also associated with perceptions of risk and brand appeal. Compared with Marlboro packs with a red logo, Marlboro packs with a gold logo were rated as a lower health risk by 53% and easier to quit by 31% of adult smokers in a British study.81 Researchers concluded that removing colours from packs (plain packaging), as well as terms such as 'smooth' 'gold' and 'silver' would significantly reduce false beliefs and increase compliance with existing legislation. In an on-line study of young adults aged 10–17 years in the United Kingdom, lighter coloured packs were typically viewed as the 'least harmful'.84 In another on-line survey involving 947 16- to 19-year-old female subjects in the United Kingdom, participants were randomised to view 10 cigarette packs designed according to one of four experimental conditions: fully branded female packs, the same packs without descriptor words, the same packs without brand imagery or descriptors ('plain' packs), and branded non-female brands. Plain packs were associated with fewer false beliefs about health risks compared with branded packs. Removing brand descriptors from packs significantly reduced measures of appeal and taste, particularly for brands with flavour descriptors, such as 'cherry' and 'vanilla'.85

Research conducted for the Australian Government79 indicated that plain packs in the darker candidate colours being tested were perceived as being harder to quit and more harmful to health than branded packs, particularly those currently in lighter colours. Effects of plain packaging on appeal of products

The appeal of tobacco products can be understood in terms of the appeal of the pack, perceptions about the sensory appeal of the product (in terms of taste, smoothness etc) and the types or characteristics of people likely to use particular brands.

An Australian study published in 2008 involving more than 800 adult smokers examined the effects on the appeal of tobacco products when progressively reducing the amount of pack branding design information. As illustrated in Figure 11.10.1, the plainest packs were seen as less attractive (brand/pack characteristic), smokers of the packs were seen as significantly less stylish and sociable (smoker characteristic) and the cigarettes in the packs were thought to be less satisfying and of lower quality (sensory perception).76


Figure 11.10.18

Figure 11.10.1
Level of attractiveness of increasingly plainer tobacco packaging

Source: Wakefield et al 200876

A similarly designed study involving adolescents published in 2009 found that progressively removing brand elements such as colour, branded fonts and non-health warning or brand imagery from cigarette packs, resulted in adolescent smokers seeing packs as less appealing, having more negative expectations of cigarette taste and rating attributes of a typical smoker of the pack less positively.77

A Canadian study published online in 2011 examined the effects of removal of brand imagery on young female smokers aged 18–25 years.95 Participants were asked to view female-oriented brands as currently packaged; images of the same packs with brand names but without descriptors; the same brand without brand imagery or descriptors in plain white colouring; and fully branded non-female brands. They were then asked to rate each pack for appeal, taste, health risks and tar levels. The highest-rated female pack, Capri Cherry, was rated 'more appealing than other brands' by almost 67% of participants. The researchers found that removing descriptors and colours from packs substantially reduced the appeal of female-oriented brands for female smokers: for example, the appeal of Capri Cherry fell from 67% to 17% among women who viewed plain packs without the word 'Cherry'. Plain packs were also associated with significantly fewer positive characteristics than fully branded packs, including glamour, being slim, popular, attractive and sophisticated.95

Of particular note, young women in the plain pack condition were significantly less likely to believe that smoking helps people stay slim compared to participants in the no descriptors condition (ß= –0.31, p= 0.03).

Table 11.10.1
Pack ratings of appeal, taste, tar level and health risk for individual packs (n=512)


'A little' or 'a lot' more appealing than other brands (percentage agreement)










No descriptors


















'A little' or 'a lot' better taste than other brands (percentage agreement)










No descriptors


















'A little' or 'a lot' less tar than other brands (percentage agreement)










No descriptors


















'A little' or 'a lot' less health risk than other brands (percentage agreement)










No descriptors


















Note: Letters are used to indicate statistical significance between values in the same column. Values with the same letter are significantly different at the p<0.05 level.

Source: Doxey and Hammond, Tobacco Control 201195

A small naturalistic pilot study in Glasgow in Scotland (n=18) in which smokers used their own cigarettes in brown plain packs constructed by the researchers found that in comparison with branded packaging, plain packaging increased negative perceptions and feelings about the pack and about smoking.83

'Plain packaging also increased avoidant behaviour (hiding the pack, covering the pack), certain smoking cessation behaviours, such as smoking less around others and forgoing cigarettes, and thinking about quitting. Almost half (n=8) of those in the post-study interview, predominantly women (n=6), reported that the use of plain packs had either increased avoidant behaviour or reduced consumption.'
Moodie et al, 201183 p 367

A study of adult smokers and non-smokers in France using computer-assisted personal interviewing found that plain packs were less likely than regular packs and particularly limited edition packs (with novel designs or innovations) to be considered attractive, attention grabbing and likely to motivate youth purchase.88 Plain packs were also rated as the most effective in convincing non-smokers not to start and smokers to reduce consumption and quit.

More than half of the young people in an on-line study of British teenagers aged 10–17 years indicated that product packaging was an 'important' or 'very important' influence in young people's choice of cigarettes.84 Narrow perfume style packs and slide packs that opened from the side were noted as particularly attractive. Plain packs were rated as unattractive by more than 90 per cent of participants. More than two-thirds agreed that the users of plain packs could be described as 'unfashionable' or 'old'.

The research study conducted for the Australian Government to guide the development of plain packaging legislation79 indicated that plain packs in the darker candidate colours being tested were perceived as containing cigarettes of lower quality and ones that smokers would be less likely to consider smoking (Study 4).79

In a series of focus groups exploring brand symbolism and social identity among young adult smokers in New Zealand, Hoek et al25 used thematic analysis of transcript data to explore how plain packaging would affect the symbolic status of cigarette brands. They concluded that replacing branding with larger health warnings weakened the social benefits that brands conferred on users. Plain packaging undermined the aspirational connotations of cigarette brands by breaking the connection between the brand and desirable social attributes and admired social groups.25

Hammond et al's on-line study of young female smokers published in 201285 found that plain packs were significantly less likely than fully or partially branded products to be associated with positive images, such as glamour, sophistication, and slimness. Most importantly, 'respondents were significantly less likely to accept a pack of cigarettes when offered only plain versus branded packs'. 85 p1 Combined effect of plain packaging and health warnings on product appeal

Might it be possible to reduce product appeal without resorting to plain packaging, just by increasing the size of the health warning?

A New Zealand study published in Tobacco Control in 201086 examined the combined effects of health warnings and plain packaging on the appeal of tobacco products. Packs with the greatest number of branding elements were still preferred even with a 50% warning but were less likely to be chosen with a 75% warning. Plain packs with 75% health warnings were significantly more likely to elicit cessation-linked behaviours than were branded packs with the current 30% front-of-pack warnings.

Is there any advantage in requiring health warnings larger than 75% of the front of the pack?

An Australian study funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, results of which were presented at the 2011 meeting of the Society for Research in Tobacco and Nicotine and later published in the journal Addiction, further examined the impact of plain packaging and health warnings on pack appeal.78 Consistent with previous research,76 plain packaging was found to decrease taste expectations and the positive image of brands and increase the negative aspects of brand image, and reduce purchase intention. While larger health warnings have been found to be more noticeable, memorable and likely to elicit cessation-related attitudes and behaviours—refer Section A12.1— this study found that removing the colour and design features of packaging was more effective than increasing health warnings in reducing the appeal of brands. Once packs were plain, increasing the size of health warnings beyond a certain point (from 75 to 90%) did not further reduce brand appeal.

11.10.5 Australian announcement of plain packaging legislation

On 29 April 2010, in what was heralded as a new benchmark in global leadership for tobacco control,96 the Australian Government announced that it would be developing legislation to introduce mandatory plain packaging of tobacco products in 2012.97 The announcement was part of the Government's response to the National Preventative Health Taskforce which recommended a range of initiatives to reduce tobacco smoking, under 11 key action areas. Recommendation 5.2.1 called for the Government to end promotion of tobacco products through package design.58 It also followed consideration by the Senate Community Affairs Committee of a private member's bill to mandate plain packaging brought forward by Senator Steve Fielding.98

The Australian Government's response to the national Preventative Health Taskforce recommendations97 specified that the intent of the legislation, would be to:

  • increase the noticeability, recall and impact of health warning messages
  • reduce the ability of packaging to mislead consumers to believe that some products may be less harmful than others
  • reduce the attractiveness of the tobacco product, for both adults and children
  • reduce the appeal and desirability of smoking generally.

On 7 April 2011, the Australian Government released a consultation paper99 and draft exposure legislation100 prior to introduction of the bill in the Australian Parliament on 6 July 2011.101 Extensive research was undertaken to determine the optimal specifications for packaging and warnings.93 Health sector response to proposed legislation

The Australian Government's announcement about its intention to introduce plain packaging received overwhelming support from the health sector, with spokespeople describing the announcement as 'the most important national development in tobacco control since tobacco advertising was banned in the 90s'102 and commenting that it was 'difficult to exaggerate the importance' of such reforms.96, 103 Financial market response

While health groups and experts praised the move, financial markets appeared to view the legislation as a big risk for industry profitability. Investment bank Citigroup, immediately issued a statement expressing the view that plain packaging was the 'biggest regulatory threat to the industry, as packaging is the most important way tobacco companies have to communicate with the consumer and differentiate their products.'104 Response from retail groups

During the Australian federal election campaign in August 2010 a newly formed retail sector organisation, the Alliance of Australian Retailers, launched a counter mass-media campaign with the goal of stopping the plain packaging legislation.105 Advertisements featuring portrayals of concerned retailers saying that plain packaging would not work and would damage their business appeared nationally in newspapers, on television and radio.iii


Figure 11.10.19a.jpg Figure 11.10.19b.jpg Figure 11.10.19c.jpg

Figure 11.10.2
Advertisements placed by the Alliance of Australian Retailers in Melbourne Age and other Australian newspapers, 20 April to early May 2011

Days after the launch of the campaign, major retailers withdrew their support. The Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) withdrew its support after being forced to do so by the national grocery retailer, Coles. Coles, which chairs the board of the AACS, forced the board to withdraw the retail group and its members, including Caltex, Shell and BP, from the campaign, after being misled on the nature of the advertisements.106 Woolworths revoked its membership to the AACS over the campaign and demanded that its $15 000 in annual fees be returned.107

Health groups responded to the media campaign by placing a national newspaper advertisement of their own (Figure 11.10.3) and filing a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission based on the misleading nature of the Alliance of Australian Retailers advertisements.108 Despite the media campaign, the Australian Government remained firmly committed to the policy.

On the 30 August 2010, the Alliance of Australian Retailers' website appeared to have been hacked. As reported by Crikey, the Alliance website was changed to read:

'In the interest of public health and aligning with society's values, we have decided to end this campaign. All Australian Retailers operate in mixed communities, and we believe the greater good of the non-smoking majority is worth more than that of the smoking minority.

'Current smokers will continue to smoke regardless of packaging. We refuse to give incentive to those that don't smoke in any form whatsoever—thus we have ended our campaign against plain packaging.'109

On 10 September 2010, Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program Lateline revealed, using leaked internal documents, e-mails and contracts, the full extent of tobacco industry influence on the Alliance of Australian Retailers campaign.110 On the day the alliance was formed it received funds from Imperial Tobacco Australia ($1 million), British American Tobacco Australia ($2.2 million) and Philip Morris ($2.1 million). It was further revealed that in May, before the formation of the alliance, Philip Morris' Australian corporate affairs manager, Chris Argent, was seeking advice from the lobbying and public relations firm, the Civic Group. Philip Morris was seeking advice and assistance for a campaign to stop plain packaging laws during the federal election.


Figure 11.10.20.jpg

Figure 11.10.3 
Advertisement in The Australian run by the Public Health Association of Australia, VicHealth, the Heart Foundation, the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, Cancer Council Australia and Action on Smoking and Health

The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the Public Health Association of Australia responded to the revelations by calling on the Australian Government to legislate for complete bans on all tobacco industry advertising and to force tobacco companies to release full details of lobbying, political donations and marketing plans and budgets.111

A survey of 2,101 Victorians released in March 2011 found that the Alliance of Australian Retailers campaign failed to persuade people that plain packaging would not be effective, with 86.2% saying that it made no difference to their views about plain packaging and 8.4% of respondents claiming that the advertisement increased their support.112 Direct response by tobacco companies

Imperial Tobacco Australia

Imperial Tobacco Australia stated at the time of the Government's announcement that it would 'make every effort to protect its brands and associated intellectual property and including, if necessary, take legal action',113 and repeated this position on the release of the draft legislation.

Imperial Tobacco, whose brands include Peter Stuyvesant and Gauloises, said it would 'robustly challenge' the move, which it described as 'disproportionate and misguided'.

'Plain packaging has not been introduced in any country in the world and there is no evidence to support the government's claim that this will reduce smoking,' the company said in a statement.114

Philip Morris International

Presumably in anticipation of the legislation, Philip Morris International launched an entire website dedicated to plain packagingiv months prior to the announcement. The website featured video interviews with retailers from Australia and the United Kingdom, an animated clip on why plain packaging will fail, and pages promoting the views that plain packaging will not work, violates trademark rights and will increase illicit trade. In response to the release of draft legislation, Chris Argent, a spokesman for Philip Morris told AAP that plain packaging would fuel the illicit trade in tobacco products:

'We'll continue to oppose plain packaging in every way possible because of those serious issues that the government hasn't taken into account when pursuing this policy.'
Chris Argent, Philip Morris 2010 114

British American Tobacco

British American Tobacco's London-based website also included a position statement on plain packaging. In addition to arguing that the measure would not be effective, British American Tobacco claimed:

'Generic packaging would make it harder to prevent smuggled and counterfeit products entering a market, eroding government tax revenue and disrupting efforts to tackle the illegal trade in tobacco products that plays a significant role in funding international crime and terrorism.'
British American Tobacco website115

In response to the Government's release of the exposure bill, British American Tobacco Australasia spokesperson Scott McIntyre stated that such legislation would result in claims for compensation that would be borne by taxpayers.116

Further details on industry reaction

For a list of media appearances and lobbying activities by tobacco industry representatives related to plain packaging, see timeline prepared by ASH Australia and the University of Sydney at http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/plain-packaging-in-australia/

Extracts below:

14 June 2011: Story about the US Coalition the 'Emergency Committee for American Trade' on why they oppose plain packs (Dr Cal Cohen) ABC TV.

11 July 2011: Story about tobacco companies recruiting retailers to call politicians.

2 Sept 2011: Philip Morris using FOI laws to acquire information from researchers in the United Kingdom.

14 Oct 2011: BATA threatens to suspend supply of cigarettes if Australian implementation date not changed.

11 March 2012: London Economics consultancy publishes 'The role of packaging imagery on consumer preferences for experience goods: A consumer behavioural experiment' funded by Philip Morris. Suggests that 'packaging imagery is a source of information that helps consumers differentiate between alternative product characteristics'. Extensive requests for information under Freedom of Information legislation

On 21 October 2010, Australian Greens health spokesperson Senator Rachel Siewert revealed that the Senate Estimates Community Affairs Committee had been informed that an unnamed tobacco company had made at least 19 requests through Freedom of Information provisions for information about government deliberations on plain packaging going back to 1992.117 The then Minister for Health and Ageing the Hon Nicola Roxon MP later confirmed extensive requests by all three companies.118 Between April 2010 and February 2012, the Department of Health and Ageing dealt with 64 Freedom of Information requests. The cost of processing 10 requests from British American Tobacco Australia was estimated at $643 000.v 118

11.10.6 Analysis of major industry arguments against plain packaging

Industry arguments against the introduction of plain packaging have included firstly that there is a lack of evidence that plain packaging would result in reduced smoking; secondly that it would be difficult and time-consuming for retailers in small convenience outlets, resulting in errors and delays in serving likely to result in loss of sales to supermarkets and other outlets able to sell at discounted rates; thirdly that such legislation would breach international agreements concerning intellectual property; and finally that it would facilitate illicit trade.

Health groups argue that the harmfulness and addictiveness of tobacco products is sufficient to warrant restriction of all forms of promotion and that packaging is clearly a form of promotion and therefore should not be allowed. Counter-arguments to each of the industry arguments are outlined below. Won't work

As indicated in Section 11.10.3, plain packaging has not yet been implemented anywhere in the world, so conclusions about its likely effectiveness have to be based on knowledge about the effects of packaging in general, and studies testing the reactions of respondents exposed to different packaging options under experimental conditions. There are strong grounds for believing that current packaging glamourises smoking and that plain packaging would improve the effectiveness of health warnings, reduce misconceptions about relative harmfulness of various brands and reduce the overall appeal of tobacco products in terms of perceived attractiveness of the pack, expectations about and experience of taste and perceptions about the kinds of people believed to be likely to use particular brands. The effects could be expected to be particularly strong among young people establishing their identity and image among their peers—see Section From an analysis of the effects of two previous sets of restrictions on advertising, economists Clark and Prentice concluded that entry into the market by competitors was unlikely to be significant and that greater consumption of illegal cigarettes was also unlikely.119 The authors go on to state:

'Provided that tax increases offset any induced fall in prices, plain packaging will reduce cigarette consumption.'
Clarke and Prentice 2012119 Inconvenience, errors and lost trade for retailers

The Alliance of Australian Retailers has stated that plain packaging would make it more time-consuming for retailers to find cigarette packets when customers come in to make a quick purchase. The basis of these claims was the findings of a survey of a very small number of retailers, apparently fewer than ten.120 With an erosion of convenience to the purchaser, the Alliance feared that more customers would turn to supermarkets and other retailers able to sell large volumes of stock at discounted rates.121

While some retailers suggest that plain packing would involve some loss of convenience, any such effect would apply equally to discount as to convenience outlets. Containers holding stock can be clearly labelled and placed in alphabetical order to speed up identification. The draft legislation released by the Australian Government99 proposed (and the legislation adopted as law122 specified) that the brand name be permitted to be large enough to be seen by retailers. The font size specified in draft legislation was developed after research conducted for the Australian Government,79 which included face to face interviews with retailers aged 40 years and over (Study 3).

A simulation study by Carter and his colleagues found that plain packaging actually reduced transaction time and errors in pack selection, from an average of 3.17 to 2.92 seconds.123 Acquisition of intellectual property

One of the most vocal opponents of the proposed legislation was Tim Wilson of the Institute of Public Affairs. Wilson received widespread media coverage for his views that plain packaging legislation was equivalent to acquiring the intellectual property of tobacco companies and hence in contravention of Section 51 (xxxi) of the Australian Constitution and various international conventions and trade agreements.124 He argued that the Government would be forced to compensate tobacco companies up to $A3 billion dollars annually.125 The $A3b mentioned in Wilson's report appears to be very roughly calculated based on one third of the amount of total turnover of sales of tobacco products in Australia including revenue from excise and customs duty and goods and services tax.124

Wilson's views about Government liability were quickly dismissed by senior law experts. Professor Mark Davison of Monash University said this line of argument was

'... so weak, it's non-existent. There is no right to use a trademark given by the World Trade Organization agreement. There is a right to prevent others using your trademark but that does not translate into a right to use your own trademark.'
Davison cited in article by Berkovic, The Australian 2010 126

In a seminar organised by the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia, Professor Davison comprehensively rebutted Wilsons' arguments127 noting that countries were permitted to amend their intellectual property laws to protect public health. Professor Davison argued that plain packaging does not equate to acquiring the intellectual property of tobacco companies, because the Australian Government does not intend to use the logos and tobacco companies will still maintain full rights to their logos and brand imagery; they will simply no longer be able to use these marketing tools on cigarette packages.128

The legislation provided that in the event (which the Government considered unlikely) that preventing the use of trademarks was found to be contrary to Section 51 (xxxi) of the Constitution, then trademarks would be allowed but would have to conform to restrictions (for instance on size and placement) that would be specified in regulations.

On 15 August 2012 the High Court of Australia indicated in its brief 'pronouncement of orders' that the legislation was not contrary to the Constitution.129 The detailed reasoning for the decision released by the Court on the 5 October 2012 indicated that the legislation did not result in an acquisition of any property to which section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution applies and that it was within the legislative competence of the Parliament.130 Facilitation of illicit trade

Several companies have argued that plain packaging would facilitate illicit trade and increase use among minors.115

As is discussed in full in Chapter 13, Section 13.7, reports funded by the tobacco industry attempting to quantify the extent of illicit trade131-133 appear to have generated exaggerated estimates that do not correspond with estimates derived from Australian Government surveys134,135 or assessments by Australian Government revenue collection agencies136 —see Section A review of literature concerning illicit trade in tobacco products conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer137 found that illicit trade tended to be more common in countries with high levels of international trade, lax customs surveillance and where political instability facilitates corruption among government officials and reduces the probability of detection—see Section 13.7.2. None of these conditions apply in Australia. In its 2011 annual report, the World Customs Organization reported lower numbers of detections and lower quantities of illicit tobacco products seized by customs authorities in member countries compared to 2010.138

The draft legislation released by the Australian Government99 and the legislation as passed into law122 specified that anti-counterfeiting measures would be allowed on packs including alphanumeric codes and covert markings. Forensic-level differentiation of the content of the cardboard and other material is not prohibited. The Australian Government has also increased penalties for those found guilty of engaging in illicit trade in tobacco.139

11.10.7 Milestones in adoption of legislation

Legislation mandating plain packaging was passed by the Australian Parliament on 21 November 2011—see Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, available from: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011A00148

The legislation makes it an offence to:

'... sell, supply, purchase, package or manufacture tobacco products or packaging for retail sale, that are not compliant with plain packaging requirements. These offences apply to manufacturers, packagers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers of tobacco products in Australia who fail to comply with the plain packaging requirements. Chapter 2 of the Act sets out detailed requirements relating to the packaging of tobacco products and the products themselves.'
Explanatory memorandum140

The Act also provides for regulations to prescribe additional requirements:

'The effect of the requirements will be that tobacco company branding, logos, symbols and other images that may have the effect of advertising or promoting the use of the tobacco product will not be able to appear on tobacco products or their packaging. So as to identify the particular brand or variant of a tobacco product, the brand name and variant name will be allowed on packaging in specified locations, with a specified 'plain' appearance. Information which is required by other legislation or regulations, such as trade descriptions and graphic health warnings, will also be allowed to appear.'
Explanatory memorandum140

The Act

'... prevents a trade mark from being placed on tobacco products or their retail packaging, so as to prevent trade marks from being used as design features to detract attention from health warnings, or otherwise to promote the use of tobacco products. However, {it also} ensures that its operation will not affect trade mark owners' ability to protect their trade marks from use by other persons, and to register and maintain the registration of a trade mark. Owners of trade marks in relation to tobacco products will be able to use their trade marks, other than on retail packaging and the products themselves, in ways that do not contravene the TAP Actvi or other laws, for example on business correspondence.'
Explanatory memorandum140

For a full summary of the provisions of the Act, refer to the explanatory memorandum—Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, available from: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011B00128/Explanatory%20Memorandum/Text140

For a full summary of the provisions of the Regulations, refer to the explanatory statement to the regulations—http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2011L02644/Download and to the amendments to those regulations—http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2012L00563/Download.

While the legislation was not signed into law until 1 December 2011, proposals for plain packaging in Australia date back to the early 1990s. The Australian Government approved the release of a discussion paper proposing plain packaging as one of a range of possible measures to address preventable disease, by the National Preventative Health Taskforce, on 10 October 2008.57

Major milestones in the development of this legislation are listed below.

15 Apr 1992: Australian Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (composed of health and police ministers) proposes large new warnings and asks for a report on plain packaging.

This was after consideration of a report produced for it which recommended on the basis of its findings about the impact of packaging on the effectiveness of warnings, that 'regulations be extended to cover the colours, design and wording of the entire exterior of the pack' (p18).

Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer. Paper 13: Adolescents' reactions to cigarette packs modified to increase extent and impact of health warnings.

24 Jul 1995: Advisor to (then) Australian Health Minister the Hon Carmen Lawrence MP is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as ruling out the idea of plain packaging, citing a need to explore international trade and legal issues.

15 Dec 1995: Australian Senate Community Affairs References Committee releases its (160-page) report. 'The Committee considers that, on the basis of the evidence received, there is not sufficient evidence to recommend that tobacco products be sold in generic packaging.'

Sep 1997: Australian Government formally replies to Senate Committee Report:

'In response to the mounting interest in generic packaging, the Commonwealth obtained advice from the Attorney General's Department on the legal and constitutional barriers to generic packaging. This advice indicates that the Commonwealth does possess powers under the Constitution to introduce such packaging but that any attempt to use these powers to introduce further tobacco control legislation needs to be considered in the context of the increasingly critical attention being focussed on the necessity, appropriateness, justification and basis for regulation by such bodies as the Office of Regulatory Review, the High Court, and Senate Standing Committees. In addition, further regulation needs to be considered in the context of Australia's international obligations regarding free trade under the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT), and our obligations under International covenants such as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).'

April 2008: Release of Freeman B, Chapman S and Rimmer M. The case for the plain packaging of tobacco products. Addiction 2008;103:580–90.

9 April 2008: Health Minister the Hon Nicola Roxon MP announces establishment of the National Preventative Health Taskforce.

10 Oct 2008: Release for consultation of the draft report of the Preventative Health Taskforce, entitled Australia: the healthiest country by 2020, including a large number of recommendations including one concerning plain packaging of tobacco products.

17–22 Nov 2008: At the third Conference of Parties in Durban South Africa, Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control adopt Guidelines on advertising, promotion and sponsorship (article 13) and Guidelines on Packaging and labelling (article 11) that recommend the use of plain packaging.

Oct to Nov 2008: Consultation sessions by the National Preventative Health Taskforce.

1 Dec 2008: Publication of report on first Australian research experiment on plain packaging. Wakefield M, Germain D and Durkin S. How does increasingly plainer cigarette packaging influence adult smokers' perceptions about brand image? An experimental study. Tobacco Control 2008;17(6):416–21.

15 Apr 2009: National Preventative Health Taskforce announces that it has considered more than 400 submissions received on its draft report released in October.

30 Jun 2009: National Preventative Health Taskforce provides final report to Government for consideration, entitled National Preventative Health Strategy – the roadmap for action.

20 Aug 2009: Australian Senator Steve Fielding introduces the Plain Tobacco Packaging (Removing Branding from Cigarette Packs) Bill 2009 which would have required plain packaging of tobacco products. This was referred for consideration to the Senate Community Affairs Committee which heard submissions and completed a report which was later tabled in the Senate on the 28 September 2010141

1 Sep 2009: The Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP releases the final report of the Preventative Health Taskforce which recommends plain packaging as part of a comprehensive package of measures to make Australia the healthiest country in the world by 2020.

Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. National Preventative Health Strategy. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2009.

'Plain packaging would prohibit brand imagery, colours, corporate logos and trademarks, permitting manufacturers only to print the brand name in a mandated size, font and place, in addition to required health warnings and other legally mandated product information such as toxic constituents, taxpaid seals or package contents. A standard cardboard texture would be mandatory, and the size and shape of the package and cellophane wrapper would also be prescribed. A detailed analysis of current marketing practices78 suggests that plain packaging would also need to encompass pack interiors and the cigarette itself, given the potential for manufacturers to use colours, bandings and markings, and different length and gauges to make cigarettes more 'interesting' and appealing. Any use of perfuming, incorporation of audio chips or affixing of 'onserts' would also need to be banned.'
Tobacco Working Group. Technical report no. 2. Tobacco in Australia: making smoking history. Canberra: National Preventative Health Taskforce, 2008.

Roxon remarks at the launch of the document 'we are killing people by not acting'.

14 Oct 2009: Publication on line of Germain D, Wakefield MA and Durkin SJ. Adolescents' perceptions of cigarette brand image: does plain packaging make a difference? Journal of Adolescent Health 2010;46(4):385–92. Available from: www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(09)00341-3/abstract

29 Apr 2010: The Australian Government announced its decision to implement plain packaging for tobacco products and to mandate updated and expanded graphic health warnings at the same time.

7 Apr 2011: Release by the Australian Government of an exposure draft of the legislation alongside a consultation paper, with comments to be received within the following 60 days.

23 May 2011: Review of the evidence published by Cancer Council Victoria.

29 May 2011: Release of results of research showed plain packaging of cigarettes was supported by the majority of Australians.

31 May 2011: Opposition announces it would not oppose plain packs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99vJVdiqDSc&feature=related

6 Jun 2011: Over 250 submissions received by Government on draft plain packaging legislation.

6 Jul 2011: Bill introduced into House of Representatives, read and second reading moved.

7 Jul 2011: House of Representatives refers Bill to Standing Committee on Health and Ageing.

22 Jul 2011: Submissions close for House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing Inquiry into Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011.

4 Aug 2011: Hearings of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing.

4 Aug 2011: Cancer Council Victoria releases updated evidence review and review of Deloitte report on illicit trade.

18 Aug 2011: Senate refers Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011 to Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee which calls for submissions (by 2 September 2011).

22 Aug 2011: House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Aged Care tables the report on its inquiry into Tobacco Plain Packaging.

24 Aug 2011: Second reading debate, third reading agreed to passage of legislation through House of Representatives http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/reps/dailys/dr240811.pdf

25 Aug 2011: Bill introduced and read a first time in Senate, then second reading moved.

2 Sep 2011: Submissions received by Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

13 Sep 2011: Hearings of the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

17 Sep 2011: Release of new graphic health warnings for tobacco products.

19 Sep 2011: Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee provides report142 to Senate.

11 Oct 2011: Second reading debate in Senate commences.

2 Nov 2011: The then Minister for Health the Hon Nicola Roxon MP announces that the implementation of plain packaging will be delayed until December 1, 2012 as a result of delays in the Senate review of the bill.vii

9 and 10 Nov 2011: Bills return to Senate including revised timelines. Second reading debate continues and Second reading agreed to; Third reading agreed to. Trade Marks (Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 passes the Australian Senate.

21 Nov 2011: Final passage of amended Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill through House of Representatives

Vote on Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill as amended by the Senate. The Bill passes the Australian Parliament including amendments to extend the timeframe for implementation.

Official Hansard No 18, Monday 21 November, Forty-third Parliament, First session--Fourth period 2011:12913.

1 Dec 2011: Signing into law by Governor General of Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 and Trade Marks Amendment Plain Packaging Act 2011.122

7 Dec 2011: Tobacco Plain Packaging Regulations made (registered 12 December, tabled in the House of Representatives and Senate on 7 February 2012).143

22 Dec 2011: Release of new Information Standard specifying enlarged graphic health warnings (http://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/991370) for tobacco products Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2011.144

8 Mar 2012: Making of Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Regulation 2012, tabled in House of Representatives and Senate on 14 March 2012.

Oct Nov 2012: Some packs in plain packaging start to appear in retail outlets.

1 Dec 2012: From this date, all tobacco packages in Australia must appear in plain packaging as specified in the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011.

11.10.8 Major milestones in legal challenges to the legislation

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 has been challenged in several legal fora.

Constitutional challenges filed in Australia's High Court centred on section 51(xxxi) of the Australian Constitution which allows Parliament to make laws with respect to 'the acquisition of property on just terms'. These challenges were dismissed in August 2011. Other claims have been made under World Trade Organization agreements, including those dealing with intellectual property and technical barriers to trade.145,146 Philip Morris Asia Limited has also challenged Australia's plain packaging measures under a bilateral investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong.

Major developments to date include the following:

7 Jun 2011: Dominican Republic raises concerns about legislation at the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) council meeting. Support or sympathy for the Dominican Republic came from Honduras, Nicaragua, Ukraine, the Philippines, Zambia, Mexico, Cuba and Ecuador. New Zealand, Uruguay and Norway said Australia's draft law is justified. India did not comment on the law specifically but said studies show that plain packaging does reduce smoking. India, Brazil and Cuba stressed their view that countries have the right to implement public health policies without intellectual property being an obstacle—referring directly or indirectly to the 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health. Concerns were also raised at subsequent TRIPS and Technical Barriers to Trade meetings.

21 Nov 2011: Philip Morris Asia Limited, Hong Kong, owner of Australian affiliate, Philip Morris Limited , announces that it has begun legal proceedings against the Australian Government by serving a Notice of Arbitration under Australia's Bilateral Investment Treaty with Hong Kong.

See related documents: Attorney-General's Department. Investor-State Arbitration - Tobacco Plain Packaging. Canberra: Australian Government, 2011.

1 Dec 2011: Tobacco companies told they have a full twelve months to prepare to comply with legislation.

Dec 2011: British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, and Philip Morris Limited each file a Writ Of Summons in the High Court.

15 Dec 2011: Health Minister the Hon Nicola Roxon MP named Attorney-General in Cabinet reshuffle, vows to continue fight for plain packaging.

22 Dec 2011: Attorney-General the Hon Nicola Roxon MP accuses Philip Morris of corporate restructuring to assist its case under the Australia–Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty.

14 Apr 2012: Japan Tobacco International says that Australian Government will 'benefit' if fewer people die from tobacco after plain packs. This argument was part of building a case about whether 'acquisition' of brands 'benefits' others.

17–19 Apr 2012: High Court cases heard in Canberra. High Court submissions and transcripts of proceedings (British American Tobacco: http://www.hcourt.gov.au/cases/case-s389/2011 and Japan Tobacco: http://www.hcourt.gov.au/cases/case-s409/2011)

15 Aug 2012: The High Court hands down its orders that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 is not contrary to section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution.130

28 Sep 2012: World Trade Organization's Dispute Settlement Body agrees to establish a dispute settlement panel at the request of Ukraine, to hear a complaint brought by Ukraine against Australia regarding its plain packaging measures. A record number of 34 WTO members indicated they will join the dispute as third parties. On 15 October, Honduras also submitted a request to the Dispute Settlement Body to establish a dispute settlement panel, which Australia rejected at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body meeting on 19 November.

5 Oct 2012: High Court publishes its reasons for rejecting the constitutional challenges.129

9 Nov 2012: The Dominican Republic requests the establishment of a panel under the dispute settlement procedures of the World Trade Organization and asks that this request be included on the agenda of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body meeting on 17 December 2012.

11.10.9 International flow-on effects

Thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society for compiling this information

Australia's legislation has been applauded by respected commentators in tobacco control147, 148 and by international health authorities. It has also strengthened the resolve of several other governments to follow Australia's example. As at February 2018, plain packaging has been adopted in 8 countries and is under consideration in at least 16 other jurisdictions. Other than Australia (2012), plain packaging has been implemented in France (2016), the United Kingdom (2016), Norway (2017), and Ireland (2017), will be implemented in New Zealand (2018), Hungary (2018), and Slovenia (2020), and is under formal consideration in Canada, Uruguay, Thailand, Singapore, Belgium, Romania, Chile, Turkey, Taiwan, Jersey, Guernsey, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Finland, and South Africa. Expressions of support for implementation of plain packaging have also been made by the governments of Mauritius,149 Kenya,150 Gambia,151 Botswana,152 and Burkina Faso.153  

Summary of implementation dates at manufacturer and retailer levels.

  Country Manufacturer level Retail level
1 Australia Oct.1, 2012  Dec.1, 2012
2 France May 20, 2016 Jan.1, 2017 
3 United Kingdom  May 20, 2016 May 20, 2017 
4 Norway  July 1, 2017 July 1, 2018 
5 Ireland  Sept. 30, 2017 Sept. 30, 2018 
6 New Zealand  Mar. 14, 2018 June 6, 2018 
7 Hungary*  May 20, 2018 May 20, 2019
Slovenia  Jan.1, 2020 Jan. 1, 2020

*In Hungary, plain packaging required for new brands from Aug.20, 2016.  

United Kingdom – Plain packaging regulations approved March 16, 2015160 and came into force May 20, 2016, applying to England, Wales161 Northern Ireland162 and Scotland.163 On May 19, 2016, a tobacco industry legal challenge was dismissed, with an appeal dismissed on Nov. 30, 2016, and with permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court dismissed April 12, 2017.164, 165

France – Plain packaging legislation adopted December 17, 2015 and came into force May 20, 2016.166, 167 This legislation was upheld on Jan. 21, 2016 as constitutional by France’s Constitutional Council.168 On Dec. 23, 2016, the Council of State (France’s highest administrative court) dismissed legal challenges.169 An implementing Decree170 and Decision171 were adopted Mar. 21, 2016, and a further Decree adopted Aug. 11, 2016.172 On July 20, 2015, France hosted a 10-country ministerial meeting on plain packaging.173, 174

Hungary – On August 16, 2016, Hungary adopted a Decree to require plain packaging effective May 20, 2018 at the manufacturer level.175-177 However, plain packaging must be implemented immediately for new brands placed on the market from August 20, 2016.

Ireland – Plain packaging legislation enacted March 10, 2015,178-181 amended Feb. 16, 2017,182 and commenced on Mar. 29, 2017 to come into force Sept. 30, 2017 at manufacturer level.183

New Zealand – Plain packaging legislation adopted Sept. 14, 2016 and regulations approved June 6, 2017, to come into force Mar. 18, 2018 at the manufacturer level.184-186  

Norway – Plain packaging legislation adopted Feb. 10, 2017, in effect July 1, 2017 at the manufacturer level.187-191 Plain packaging regulations adopted June 22, 2017.192 On Nov. 6, 2017, the Oslo District Court dismissed an attempt to suspend implementation of plain packaging requirements applying to snuff pending the outcome of a legal challenge.193  

Slovenia – Act adopted Feb. 15, 2017 requires plain packaging effective Jan. 1, 2020, and requires the Minister of Health to adopt a plain packaging regulation by Sept. 8, 2017.194, 195  

Chile – Bill approved by Senate, July 9, 2015, and forwarded to House of Deputies.196  

Canada – New Government elected Oct. 19, 2015 committed in electoral platform to implement plain packaging.197 On Nov. 13, 2015, the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Minister of Health included plain packaging as a “top priority”.198 On May 31, 2016, Health Minister Jane Philpott launched a public consultation ending August 31, 2016.199, 200 A government bill, Bill S-5, to elaborate on regulatory authority for plain packaging was approved by the Senate on June 1, 2017, received first reading in the House of Commons on June 15, 2017 and second reading on Jan. 30, 2018.201 Plain packaging was recommended in 1994 by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health.202

Uruguay – President stated November 24, 2015 and reiterated on July 8, 2016 that plain packaging is being considered.203, 204 A Philip Morris legal claim under bilateral Switzerland-Uruguay investment agreement dismissed July 8, 2016, regarding significant packaging restrictions (though not plain packaging).205 Subsequently, on July 13, 2016, Health Minister stated that a plain packaging law was being developed and would be implemented in 2017.206 Government bill providing enabling authority to require plain packaging was introduced in the Senate Nov. 6, 2017 and referred to the Public Health Committee Nov. 7, 2017.207, 208  

Thailand – In November, 2015, a Thailand government representative stated that plain packaging was under consideration.209-211 On April 2, 2017, an Act was adopted containing regulatory authority to require plain packaging.212  

Georgia – Legislation adopted May 30, 2017 with regulatory authority to require plain packaging.213  

Jersey and Guernsey – On July 3, 2017, the Jersey Minister for Health and Social Services issued instructions to draft plain packaging regulations, with the intent that Jersey and Guernsey would have parallel regulations.214, 215  

Singapore – On Dec. 29, 2015, Singapore launched a public consultation on plain packaging ending March 29, 2016.216, 217 On Mar. 9, 2017, the Senior Minister of State for Health stated that a further public consultation would be held in 2017.218 On Feb. 4, 2018, Singapore launched a public consultation ending Mar. 16, 2018.219, 220  

Nepal – On May 8, 2017, Minister of Health announced that Nepal to have plain packaging by 2018.221-223  

Sri Lanka – On Nov. 7, 2016, President stated that Minister of Health is proposing to introduce plain packaging “in the near future.”224225  

Belgium – Public Health Minister announced April 9, 2016 that Belgium to have plain packaging by 2019.226 

Romania – Law adopted Nov. 4, 2016 includes a provision authorizing government to adopt decision requiring plain packaging.227  

Taiwan – On Feb. 13, 2017, government provided notification of draft bill containing regulatory authority to require plain packaging.228 

Finland – Government national action plan (June 2014) includes plain packaging as planned measure.229  

Turkey – Plain packaging included in government national action plan for 2015-2018.230 In August, 2016, the Health Minister stated that plain packaging is under consideration.231 On Feb. 9, 2017, the Minister of Health stated “we have completed preparations for the introduction of plain packaging”.232  

South Africa – Health Minister stated July 24, 2014 that he wants to implement plain packaging,233 and stated March 18, 2015234 and May 31, 2016235 that legislation will be introduced in Parliament. In November, 2017, Health Minister stated a draft bill would be submitted to Cabinet in early 2018.236  

European Union – new Tobacco Products Directive adopted April 3, 2014 explicitly states that 28 EU countries have the option of implementing plain packaging, a provision upheld on May 4, 2016 by the European Court of Justice as valid when dismissing a tobacco industry legal challenge.237-239   


11.10.10 Initial industry responses to attempt to mitigate the impact of legislation

In the months leading up to 1 December 2012 (the date after which only plain packs could be sold in Australia) tobacco companies employed a number of strategies to attempt to mitigate the effects of the legislation. These activities included short-term messages on packs reassuring smokers about the continuing quality of well-known brands. Further product and packaging strategies, such as the issuing of special editions and collector packs, and the launching of a number of new brands and variants were observed during the transition to plain packaging and subsequent years. These longer-term packaging and branding strategies are described in detail in Chapter 10, Section 10.7.

British American Tobacco Australia added a reassurance message to the packaging of Winfield in 2011 that emphasised its status as the top-selling brand in Australia, 'True Blue Aussie Original since 1972'. It also provided banner messages over the front of the iconic Winfield crest reassuring smokers that the products’ taste would continue unchanged despite the imminent new packaging—see Figure 11.10.4.

Philip Morris provided customers with similar assurances through pack inserts (see Figure 11.10.5). Imperial Tobacco Australia took a more dramatic approach with its Peter Stuyvesant brand (Figure 11.10.6). In the months immediately before plain packaging implementation, two ‘transition’ pack designs were introduced alongside the usual white Peter Stuyvesant pack. These were a mock-up plain pack in a dark brown colour, but still featuring Peter Stuyvesant branding, and a 50–50 tear off design showing the original packaging underneath the ‘plain’ packaging. The ‘plain’ packs featured a reassurance message stating ‘Branded cigarette packaging will be banned in December, but Peter Stuyvesant will live on. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.’ 

Figure 11.10.22

Figure 11.10.4
Winfield cigarettes including sticker with message reassuring smokers about continuing quality


Figure 11.10.23

Figure 11.10.5
Philip Morris pack insert reassuring smokers about continuing quality

Source: ASH Australia Packwatch website—see http://www.ashaust.org.au/lv4/MarketingPloys.htm#PACKWATCH


Figure 11.10.24 Figure 11.10.24b

Figure 11.10.6
Peter Stuyvesant ‘transitional’ packs carrying the reassurance message 'It's what’s on the inside that counts', Australia September 2012

Source: Quit Victoria pack collection

11.10.11 Implementation of Act

Cigarettes and smoking tobacco in plain packaging were noted in retail outlets in Australia from October 2012.

From 1 December 2012, all cigarettes and other tobacco products sold in Australia must comply with the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011.


Figure 11.10.29

Figure 11.10.7

Packs of British American Tobacco Australia's Winfield Blue (the leading brand of cigarettes in Australia) and Philip Morris Australia's Marlboro Red (the leading brand of cigarettes internationally), purchased in Carlton Victoria November 2012

Source: Quit Victoria 2012

11.10.12 Effects of plain packaging in Australia post-implementation Effects on smokers

The introduction of plain packaging legislation in Australia was informed by an understanding of the way packaging affects perceived appeal of tobacco products, noticeability and impact of health warnings, and perceptions of relative harmfulness.240 Experimental research conducted prior to implementation of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011,122 showed that, when compared with fully branded packs, plain packs made smoking and products less appealing to smokers, increased the effectiveness of health warnings, and (when packs were darker in colour) reduced misperceptions about relative harmfulness of cigarettes.91

Product appeal, health warnings, and perceptions of harm
Since being implemented, research has begun to investigate the effects of plain packaging on each of the intended mechanisms by which the Act was intended to contribute to its Objects,122 including:

i. Reducing the appeal of tobacco products

Research in Victoria conducted over the phase-in period of plain packaging found that plain pack smokers perceived their cigarettes to be of lower quality and less appealing, and were more likely to think about and prioritise quitting when compared with branded pack smokers.241 A large survey of NSW smokers showed a significant increase in negative perceptions about packs in the months following implementation of the policy, including strong disagreement that the packs are attractive, fashionable, and influence their choice of brand.242 National research comparing smokers’ attitudes pre- and post-implementation supported these preliminary results; one year after plain packaging, more smokers disliked their pack, perceived lower pack appeal, lower cigarette quality, lower satisfaction, and lower value, and disagreed brands differed in prestige.243 Among Indigenous Australians, compared with pre-plain packaging, younger people post-implementation of the policy were less likely to view some brands as more prestigious than others.244

The appeal of cigarettes packs also decreased significantly among Australian adolescents following the introduction of plain packaging. Findings also suggested that plain packs were beginning to reduce the pack’s ability to communicate messages about the brands and cigarettes; adolescents reported higher levels of uncertainty regarding whether brands differed in their ease of being smoked, and more disagreement that some brands have better looking packs.245     

ii. Increasing the effectiveness of health warnings

The introduction of plain packs was associated with a greater salience and self-reported impact of the health warnings among a large sample of NSW smokers. Compared with pre-policy, smokers were more likely to report thoughts and concerns about quitting, seeing only the warnings on the packs, and feeling like they should hide their packs. These responses were comparable to those measured when pictorial health warnings were first introduced on packs in 2006, suggesting that an additional benefit of plain packs has been reversing a decline over time in the impact of the warnings.242 Research post-implementation also found that Australian smokers preferentially attended to and noticed the larger warnings more than they did pre-implementation.246 Similarly, one year post-implementation, more smokers noticed health warnings and attributed their motivation to quit to the warnings. Smokers also avoided specific health warnings when purchasing cigarettes.243      

Australian adolescents’ acknowledgement of the health risks of smoking remained high before and after the implementation of plain packs, and the new health warnings significantly increased their awareness that smoking causes bladder cancer.247

iii. Reducing the ability of the packaging to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of tobacco use

Evaluation of changes in beliefs following implementation suggested some (if more limited) impact on misperceptions about the relative harmfulness of tobacco products.

Prior to implementation, several of the manufacturers reassured smokers that the product itself would not change following implementation.248 Not surprisingly, there was no increase in the proportion of smokers who believed that products were more harmful than they were a year ago. The variant names were allowed to remain on the packs (for example, red, blue, light blue, silver, white),248 so it was also not surprising that there was no decline in the proportion of smokers who believe that brands differ in strength. Despite these two mitigating factors, there was a small increase in the proportion of smokers who believed that brands do not differ in harm.243 Among Indigenous Australians, one study similarly found that plain packaging had reduced misperceptions that some brands are healthier than others.244

Effects on uptake, cessation, relapse, and exposure?
Research conducted on the effects of regulating packaging among secondary school students provides some encouraging evidence of a disruption in uptake. Studies of secondary school students in two large Australian states examined changes between 2011 and 2013 in exposure to packs, attitudes, and beliefs about packs and brands,245 and beliefs about health effects.247 These studies also reported incidentally on smoking status. Among those who had seen cigarette packs in the previous six months, the percentage of students defined as non-susceptible never smokers (i.e., had never smoked a cigarette and were certain they would not smoke in the next year) significantly increased and the proportions defined as experimental (had at least a puff of a cigarette, but had not smoked in the last week) and committed smokers declined significantly. 

There was also evidence of increased cessation activity among adult smokers. A study examining “Quitline” calls in the Australian state of New South Wales found, similar to the pattern after the initial introduction of GHWs in 2006, calls increased by 78%, peaking four weeks after the start of the transition to PP. Notably though, calls remained elevated for six months, a longer time than that observed after the introduction of the 2006 GHWs.249 Among a large sample of Australian adult smokers, plain packaging increased short-term rates of quit intentions, pack avoidance, stopping themselves from smoking, and quit attempts during the transition period.250 During the first 12 months after policy implementation, reduced appeal and increased effectiveness of graphic health warnings in response to the new packs also predicted one month later quitting-related thoughts and behaviours such as increased levels of pack avoidance, stubbing out prematurely and quit attempts.251

Following the implementation of plain packaging, a significant decrease was observed in smoking and the number of packs clearly visible on tables at outdoor café strips. A minority of smokers also actively concealed their packs. The authors suggested that plain packaging was helping to reduce exposure of young people to tobacco promotion and reduce perceptions of smoking prevalence.252 One year later, a sustained reduction in visible smoking and packs at outdoor café strips was observed, again suggesting that plain packaging may be changing norms about smoking. Such changes in norms may in turn support quit attempts, reduce the risk of relapse, and reduce exposure to tobacco and uptake by young people.253

Tobacco companies have been highly critical of research funded by the Australian Department of Health conducted in Australia.254 They have commissioned critiques of the research and submitted these to the post-implementation review of plain packaging in Australia,255 to a Senate Inquiry on personal liberty in Australia,256 and to parliamentary and departmental consultations considering legislation in other countries.257-259 Some of the major critiques can be found on company websites here and here.

Effects on prevalence?
Plain packaging is one in a comprehensive set of tobacco control measures that, together, aim to reduce the prevalence of smoking. Its long-term contribution to these efforts will likely be through achieving its goals of reducing the appeal of tobacco products, increasing the efficacy of health warnings, and reducing the ability  of packaging to mislead consumers.260

Data from the Australian Secondary School Survey on Smoking Alcohol and Drugs showed a substantial decline in smoking among secondary school students between 2011 and 2014.261 While many factors—including many other elements of tobacco control policy—would have contributed to this decline, the changes in smoking status between 2011 and 2013 reported above (during a period where there were no real increases in prices and no other major changes in policy) are suggestive of a contribution from plain packaging.

Data from the National Drugs Strategy Household Survey in 2013 show a historic low in smoking prevalence since the implementation of plain packaging, with only 12.8 per cent smoking daily262 and a decline between 2013 and 2010 that was substantially larger than previous 3-yearly falls (see Cancer Council Victoria’s fact sheet). 

The Post-Implementation Review of plain packaging legislation in Australia255 includes expert analysis of smoking prevalence based on Roy Morgan Company’s single source survey between 2001 and 2015. Controlling for the effects of tax increases and a range of other policies over this period, the analysts conclude that plain packaging policy contributed approximately 0.55% of the 2.2% decline in smoking prevalence over the 34 months following implementation. Effects on sales

In the lead up to the implementation of plain packaging, the tobacco industry argued that the legislation would cause: a decrease in the use of premium and mainstream brands and an increase in use of value brands; a decline in prices paid for tobacco products, particularly for premium brands; and in turn, an increase in the consumption of tobacco products.263-265

Since the legislation has come into effect, there have been a number of analyses of these predictions. 

Brand share and prices

Recommended retail prices of tobacco products increased across the market following the implementation of plain packaging.266 A study that looked at the advertised prices in retail outlets across Australia found that the price of cigarettes most prominently promoted on price boards did not fall in the months following implementation of plain packaging (as was predicted by the tobacco industry); rather, retail prices continued to increase, even at the lowest-priced end of the market.267 Results from large cross-sectional surveys of adult smokers showed an increase in the proportion of people using value brands following the introduction of plain packaging, which was attributed largely to the increased availability and affordability of such brands in smaller pack sizes. However, contrary to tobacco industry predictions, prices paid for cigarettes increased, with the largest increases among premium brands.204

Reported consumption by smokers and total population consumption and sales

Even with the increased availability and use of value brands, reported consumption did not change significantly among remaining smokers following implementation.268

Across the market as a whole, Imperial Tobacco reported to its international shareholders at least an immediate decline in sales.269 Tobacco companies point to steady wholesale shipment figures of tobacco products over the period of implementation,270,271 however it is difficult to interpret these figures given that the policy itself required companies to provide extra stock during the implementation period in order to comply with the legislation. Data from the Australian Government suggest a continuing decline in per capita consumption of tobacco products272 (for a detailed analysis, see Cancer Council Victoria’s fact sheet). Effects on use of illicit tobacco

One of the tobacco industry’s predictions regarding plain packaging was that it would allow for easier and therefore increased counterfeiting; illicit tobacco would “spiral out of control” and lead to greater uptake and use.273 It argued that organised crime gangs would experience unprecedented profits, while the new legislation would disadvantage honest retailers and smokers.274, 275 KPMG and Deloitte have released a series of tobacco industry funded reports claiming that there has been an increase in use of illicit tobacco since 2013; however they have provided no evidence of increases in counterfeiting of local brands. Critiques of these reports have identified fundamental problems with the internet and litter surveys upon which estimates of prevalence of use of illicit tobacco are based (see the reports and their critiques here. For a detailed analysis, see Cancer Council Victoria’s fact sheet)

Research independent of the tobacco industry has consistently found minimal use of illicit tobacco in Australia, both before and after the introduction of plain packaging. Data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey in 2013 found that only 3.6% of smokers aged 14 years and older reported currently using unbranded loose tobacco, down from 4.9% in 2010.276 Cross-sectional surveys of smokers interviewed before, during, and one year after implementation showed no significant changes across time in the proportion of smokers reporting current use of unbranded illicit tobacco.277  A study exploring the availability of illicit tobacco in small retail outlets found no increase in retailers’ willingness to sell illicit tobacco post-implementation, and overall numbers of purchased illicit packs were negligible.278 A large national survey of current cigarette smokers conducted continuously from 6 months before implementation to 15 months after found no evidence of increased use of contraband cigarettes, no inrease in purchase from informal sellers, and no increased use of illicit tobacco.279 Effects on retailers

Since the implementation of plain packaging, a number of studies have tested opponents’ predictions that the legislation would have a range of negative outcomes on retailers. Suggestions that serving times would significantly increase due to the products being difficult to locate and differentiate have not been born out; one study found that plain packaging actually resulted in modest gains in retailer efficiency.280 Others found a small, temporary increase in cigarette pack retrieval times immediately following plain packaging implementation, which quickly returned to baseline. Thus, effects were minor and short-lived.281, 282

Opponents of the legislation also argued that the longer serving times would result in consumers shifting their custom from small retailers to large supermarkets. A telephone survey of Victorian smokers before, during, and after implementation found no evidence that small retail outlets had lost smoker patrons, or that there was an increase in purchases from supermarkets.277 Follow-up research—this time using a large, nationwide sample—replicated these findings.283


i Portions of this material are drawn from: Freeman B, Chapman S and Rimmer M. Review: the case for the plain packaging of tobacco products. Addiction 2008;103:580–90. Available from http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/tobacco-related-papers/Addiction_generic.pdf

iii The television advertisements can be viewed here from http://www.youtube.com/user/analogcreative/videos?view=0
Radio advertisements can be viewed here: http://australianretailers.com.au/latestnews.html

iv http://www.plain-packaging.com (no longer operational)

v See pages 174–6

vi The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 (Cth) Available from: www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2010C00100

vii For explanation of the amendments that were required in order to delay implementation of the legislation, see http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/legislation/ems/r4613_ems_868b76ac-afab-4e0d-84a2-5a95d5543192/upload_pdf/361981sem.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

Relevant news and research

For recent news items and research on this topic, click here (Last updated September 2018)      



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