Standardized Cigarette Packaging Could Help Put an End to Smoking


Standardized cigarette packaging has already been implemented in several countries, and researchers have found that this packaging may actually deter consumers from smoking. This plain packaging has been found to be unappealing to customers and therefore has the potential to reduce the amount of smoking.

Cigarettes in Singapore feature grotesque images of the ill effects of smoking. Credit: Jason Bagley/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

The World Health Organization (WHO) names tobacco use as the number one killer in the world from preventable causes. It is common knowledge that smoking cigarettes has harmful effects and can be potentially fatal, causing cancer almost anywhere in the body, cardiovascular risk, and several other deadly ailments. Smoking accounts for approximately 480,000 deaths in the United States and approximately six million people worldwide.

Despite campaigns to end smoking, it remains a widespread problem across the globe. Recently, experts discovered a way to decrease smoking that may be the most effective method yet. Plain, standardized packaging was suggested by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). And this packaging can be the answer to ending smoking, by preventing people from picking up the habit in the first place.

Australia was the first country to start using the standardized cigarette packaging in 2012. The packages are required to have large pictures depicting the various health effects of smoking. Brands or logos are not allowed, and the design must be plain in appearance.

Related: Kids’ Hands May Be Covered in Nicotine, Study Says

After this law was passed in Australia, researchers looked into the possible effects this packaging may have on the behavior of consumers. From the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group, a group of researchers from Canada and the United Kingdom analyzed data from over 50 studies on standardized packaging. Due to the rarity of standardized packaging, data is not as complete as they would like. However, they have concluded that the standardized packaging for cigarettes does lessen appeal, and the Australian government has reported a reduction in smoking.

Colorful designs on cigarette packs have appealed to consumers for decades. Credit: Nina A.J./Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

“These findings are supported by evidence from a variety of other studies that have shown that standardized packaging reduces the promotional appeal of tobacco packs, in line with the regulatory objectives set. It would appear that the impact of standardized packaging may be affected by the detail of the regulations such as whether they ban descriptors, such as ‘smooth’ or ‘gold’, and control the shape of the tobacco pack,” said Anne McNeill, Cochrane lead author and Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.

However, the research does not have evidence for long-term effects and does not explore the effects of the packaging on people who already smoke. That being said, evidence for the packaging has increased since the guidelines were originally created by the WHO, and other countries are beginning to take these findings into account, passing the laws for standardized packaging more and more.

Related: E-Cigarettes Are ‘Safer’ Than Traditional Cigarettes, Study Finds