Scotland: Plain packaging

Nov 15, 2010

Plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes have led to calls for Westminster to transfer the power to control tobacco to Holyrood.

The SNP is closely following moves by Australia to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes, which the party is keen to emulate in Scotland.

However, any attempt to force tobacco companies to sacrifice individual branding in favour of plain wrapping and bigger health warnings would face a major hurdle, as it is still a matter reserved to Westminster.

Critics and the tobacco lobby have warned that standardised packaging could be counterproductive, leading not only to a price war resulting in increased smoking rates thanks to cheap cigarettes but also a rise in counterfeiting.

Last night, an SNP spokesman said the party supported the idea of using plain packaging as a further attempt to reduce smoking rates in Scotland.

He said: “The SNP is favourably disposed to this idea, and if Westminster will not do it then the powers should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament.

“The SNP Government has already acted to end cigarette displays in shops and increase the age of purchasing tobacco to 18, and it is important that we have the powers to do more in the interests of public health in Scotland.”

In April, Australian lawmakers confirmed the country would become the first nation to ban brand images and colours on cigarette packages.

Promotional text would be limited to product names in standard colour, position, type style and size.

The World Health Organization praised the action, but tobacco firms claimed there is no evidence the measures would reduce consumption.

Overall smoking rates in Scotland have fallen from 31% in 1999 to 24% in 2009, but are still as high as 45% in the most deprived areas of Scotland.

As well as banning displays in shops and cigarette vending machines, MSPs have also raised the smoking age.

However, Dr Enrico Bonadio, a law lecturer at the University of Abertay, warned that plain packaging could provoke a price war, driving down costs and increasing smoking rates.

“If the UK adopts plain packaging, a price war is a probability,” he said. “If there was a price war and the price goes down, the number of smokers would go up in Scotland. By reducing price, you stimulate consumption. It would be a boomerang effect.

“With no logos, it would also be easier for counterfeiting by companies and criminals. That’s an argument used by opponents of plain packaging. It could be a problem. We need to consider the knock-on effects if plain packaging is brought in.”

Dr Crawford Moodie, of the Institute of Social Marketing at Stirling University, who gave a presentation to the European Commission on plain packaging, said the plan in Australia for dark brown packaging has been shown to increase the numbers quitting smoking.

“Even if there was a price war,” he said, “plain packaging is still a major deterrent.

“Scotland has always been a champion for the UK and if it was in our capacity to introduce plain packaging or larger pictorial warnings, I think Scotland would likely introduce that.”

Anti-smoking group ASH Scotland last month published 33 recommendations, including plain packaging. A spokeswoman said: “We would like Scotland’s political parties to have a manifesto commitment to a tobacco-control strategy for Scotland … as part of that strategy we would like to see the Scottish Government call for Westminster to introduce standardised, unbranded packaging of tobacco products.”

The UK Department of Health reiterated its view, given in a June 2010 parliamentary answer, that more evidence is needed on the impact of plain packaging.

Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, said: “The TMA is strongly opposed to the principle of plain packaging. Moves to prevent tobacco companies from exercising their intellectual property rights would place the Government in breach of legal obligations relating to … international trade and European law.

“Plain packs are also likely to lead to further increases in the smuggling of tobacco products and plain packs would make it so much easier for a counterfeiter to copy than existing branded packs – making it even more difficult for a consumer to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit products.”


Source: The Herald (November 15, 2010)