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Standardised packs slash smoking uptake, official review finds

Selling cigarettes in plain, standardised packaging is likely to create an important reduction in smoking, a government-commissioned review has concluded. 

After reviewing the evidence, Sir Cyril Chantler has claimed that standardized packaging will result in smokers and potential smokers feeling more negative about smoking. 

Susceptible children and young adult smokers will also become less likely to associate particular brands with peers they want to emulate, and health warnings already on all tobacco products will appear “more credible” on a plain packet, Sir Cyril, a past consultant paediatrician and chair of the University College London Partners has said.

“Research cannot prove conclusively that a single measure like standardised packaging of tobacco products will reduce smoking and it is not possible to carry out a controlled trial,” Sir Cyril said. 

'Purposefully unattractive'

He added: “However, I am satisfied that there is enough evidence to say that standardised packaging is very likely to contribute to a modest but important reduction in smoking. This effect will be optimised if it is part of a wider tobacco control strategy. The evidence base is modest and it has limitations, but it points in a single direction, and I am not aware of any evidence pointing the other way."

Standardised packaging means that all tobacco products would be placed in “purposefully unattractive packaging” without branding or promotional information. 

The review puts forward a “compelling case” for standardised packaging, the government has said. 

Regulations for the change could be introduced following a consultation. 

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said: “Smoking is the greatest preventable cause of death in the UK.  One in two smokers die as a direct result of smoking and it can lead to many serious illnesses, such as cancer and coronary heart disease, that can result in disability, pain and distress for individuals and communities.

“Already in this country we have made considerable progress in reducing the prevalence of smoking and the consequent burden of disease but there is more to be done - it is particularly important that we continue to focus on discouraging children and young adults from taking up smoking.

“This review only reinforces my beliefs of the public health gains to be achieved from standardised packaging.”

Across the UK, over 200,000 children aged between 11-15 start smoking every year - this equates to around 600 children starting smoking every day.  

Sir Cyril Chantler's review makes the point that if this rate was reduced by just 2% it would mean that 4,000 fewer children would be taking up smoking each year.