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Q&A: Everything you need to know about the plain packaging of cigarettes

What is plain packaging?

When cigarettes boxes have plain packaging, it means that they do not have promotional, marketing and advertising features like branding and logos and only have large pictures showing the harm of smoking, which can serve as a health warnings.

All cigarette boxes essentially look the same and are indistinguishable. Each pack will have the brand name, product name, the quantity and the manufacturer’s contact details on the packaging. But these will be done in a standard typeface along with the other mandatory information such as health warnings and tax stamps.

Why should countries have plain packaging of cigarettes?

Research shows that branding, colours and logos on tobacco packaging act as a form of advertising and promotion and distract people from the health warnings that appear on the packets. The World Health Organisation recommends that plain packaging be enforced in countries because it addresses various factors that how many people smoke and how much they smoke.

The plain packaging of cigarettes make them less appealing, make the health warnings more noticeable and therefor effective. They also prevent manufacturers from misleading consumers about the harms of smoking and tobacco use through its packaging.

Does plain packaging even work?

There are many countries that have implemented plain packaging. These include Australia, France, the UK, Ireland, Hungry, Norway, Slovenia, and New Zealand. Several other countries are still thinking about it. They are Belgium, Uruguay, Thailand, Chile and Sri Lanka.

Packaging cigarettes in this way increases the smokers' awareness of the dangers of smoking and has been effective in getting people to quit or think about quitting. The thinking behind plain packaging is that non-smokers, especially young people, may be deterred to start because of the graphic health warnings.

In Australia, studies evaluating its effectiveness five years after the legislation was implemented shows that there was an increase in the rate of the smoking prevalence declining as well as an increase in the tobacco consumption declining.

South Africa has health warnings on cigarette packs. Isn't that enough?

At the moment, the existing tobacco control legislation specifies that tobacco manufacturers must put text health warnings on their packs. But these are not effective. We also need to get manufacturers to stop using tobacco packaging to advertise and promote their brands.

Research shows that young people are attracted to the packaging of tobacco products which is used as an advertising and marketing tool, especially through the displays at till points.

Smokers are misled into believing that these products are less harmful through descriptors like light, mild, ultra, infinite light and colours that have specific reference to strength and toxicity. These all make the consumer believe that the products are less harmful.

Who will be affected by plain packaging?

Anyone who manufactures or supplies tobacco products will have to ensure that their products comply with the plain packaging and new health warning requirements in the regulations.

Is plain packaging even legal?

Yes. The World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommends the plain packaging of cigarettes.

While the tobacco industry has been arguing that plain packaging breaches the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, Intellectual property (IP) laws and national constitutions, these arguments have been rejected by international and national courts and tribunals. Legal claims have been dismissed in Australia, UK, France, Norway and Ireland.

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