The Chantler Review - Almost there on standardised tobacco packs

Thursday, 3 April 2014  at 12:04

Last year the Government asked eminent doctor Sir Cyril Chantler to undertake an independent review to look at whether there is likely to be an effect on public health, particularly for children, if standardised tobacco packaging were to be introduced. 

That review has now been completed and passed to Government, who must now decide whether or not they will back plain standardised packaging for tobacco products.

The Chantler Review collected evidence from campaigners who want to see plain standardised packaging for all tobacco products in order to prevent particularly children and young people being attracted to start smoking. The Review also heard from public health experts and from the tobacco industry.

Throughout the Review process and while tobacco displays can remain visible in smaller shops, the tobacco companies are still investing heavily in new packaging and new products aimed at increasing smoking.

Whether or not we get plain standardised packaging in the UK is still not certain, but while the Government makes its final deliberations, the pressure from tobacco companies and their lobbyists is being ramped up.

The tobacco companies have recently published a number of reports and studies they have funded, using their own figures to suggest the introduction of plain packaging in Australia coincided with a rise in sales and an increase in the prevalence of illegal tobacco. This version of events has received media attention despite being effectively debunked by both cancer campaigners and Australia’s own Customs and Border Protection Service. 

Unravelling the truth behind the industry myths, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reported last month that:

Executives of British American Tobacco last week boasted to investors that plain packaging had increased illegal tobacco smuggling by about a third but had no impact on consumption trends. It said plain packaging was easier to counterfeit, causing the smuggling boom.

In fact, despite the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service increasing its capture of illegal tobacco, only one haul of "plain packaged" illegal cigarettes has been found. 

The illicit "plain packaged" cigarettes from China likely represent fewer than 4 per cent of all cigarettes captured since plain packaging began, a Fairfax Media analysis has found.

Mike Daube, a professor of health policy at Curtin University, said tobacco companies were "tripping over their own misinformation". "This official information from Customs deals a death blow to the tobacco industry's biggest scare campaign," he said. "These companies have been running huge media and lobbying programs … Now we know the truth."

A Customs and Border Protection Service spokeswoman said plain packaging simply did not appear to have an effect on smugglers. "Since the introduction of plain packaging requirements the [service] has made numerous detections of illicit tobacco but only one detection has involved plain packaged illicit tobacco," she said.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tobacco-industry-claims-on-impact-of-plain-packaging-go-up-in-smoke-20140311-34kfc.html#ixzz2xFerOWta

In the UK, stories are beginning to appear that tell the tobacco industry’s version of the Australian experience, but there are also opinion pieces (like this one: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10724498/Theres-a-quiet-rebellion-under-way-against-bossy-government.html) being published that claim to introduce plain standardised packaging is an assault on smokers human rights.

By contrast, the international movement by public health bodies to bring in standardised plain packaging for tobacco is about protecting children from being attracted to take up smoking. Independent, peer reviewed evidence has shown the harmful effects of smoking for decades. Despite the protestations from the tobacco industry it is clear that if package design is there to attract smokers and smoking causes half of all smokers to die early, there is a strong case to remove that attraction and to reduce smoking and the devastating impact it has on people’s lives. 

The damage caused by smoking takes time to be felt in health terms, but the risk to health increases with every cigarette smoked. The real benefits of plain standardised packaging will be felt in the years to come, through better health for more people who don’t start smoking as young people. 

* This number reflects the total amount of people who have signed up to support the plain packaging of tobacco products, via the Plain Packs Protect Partnership (logos below), British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK websites.
Supporters Smoke Free South West Ulster Cancer Foundation ash Ash Scotland Ash Wales British Heart Foundation Cancer Research UK Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Cut Films Faculty of Public Health Fresh Smoke Free North East National Heart Forum NCSCT BTS - Stop Smoking Champions The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation Royal College of Physicians TCC Tobacco Free Future Trading Standards Partnership South West Smoke Free Lincs - Promoting a tobacco free life