A packet of what?

Editorial: the Government has reinforced Ireland’s position as a campaigning nation at the forefront of tobacco control


The Cabinet decision to introduce plain packaging on all tobacco products for sale in the Republic from early next year reinforces Ireland’s position as a campaigning nation at the forefront of tobacco control. As the first country in the EU to announce such a move, and the second in the world after Australia, the decision is consistent with previous pioneering legislation, subsequently replicated globally, banning smoking in the workplace.

The move echoes the theme of Friday’s World No Tobacco Day, “Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”. It means cigarette packets will no longer be mobile advertisements for the tobacco industry. Research has shown that packaging has been used effectively to reassure consumers about the risks of smoking by using words such as “mild” or “light”. Colourful imagery is also used to influence consumers. And pack shape and design are key marketing measures.

Under the proposed legislation, the standard packaging of tobacco products will remove colours and logos. The brand name will be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands set against one plain neutral colour. There is evidence to suggest that plain packaging increases the effectiveness of health warnings and reduces false health beliefs about cigarettes. Research shows that this form of packaging reduces brand appeal among younger smokers.

The tobacco industry has form when it comes to misrepresenting the harms of its products. It specifically targets children, to recruit smokers before they reach age 18. Quitting in later life can be challenging, with the result that some 5,200 people die here every year from tobacco-related diseases. It is estimated that one in two smokers will die from heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases directly related to their addiction to tobacco.

It is unlikely the industry will take Minister for Health James Reilly’s plans lying down. Public representatives can expect intense lobbying over the coming months. But the Government must not dilute this life-saving proposal.