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Standardised packaging (or ‘plain packaging’) of tobacco products is taken to mean the removal of all attractive promotional aspects. Except for the brand name (which would be presented in a standardised way), all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and promotional graphics would be prohibited. The package itself would be standardised and display only information (such as health warnings) required by law.

‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Tobacco Control Plan for England’, published by the Government in March 2011, includes a commitment to explore options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging. A UK-wide public consultation ran from April to August 2012, with a summary report being published in July 2013. The Government said it would wait to see the results of the standardised packaging legislation introduced in Australia in 2011 before making a final decision.

On 28 November 2013, the Government announced an independent review into the public health evidence on standardised tobacco packaging and that an amendment would be tabled to the Children and Families Bill to establish regulation making powers in this area. The Government amendment was tabled at the Report stage in the House of Lords on 29 January 2014 and was agreed by both Houses at later stages. The Children and Families Bill received Royal Assent on 13 March 2014.

On 3 April 2014, the report of the Public Health Review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler was published. He concluded that it was very likely that the introduction of standardised packaging would lead to a modest but important reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking and would have a positive effect on public health. On the same day the Government announced that it was minded to introduce regulations to provide for standardised packaging.

On 26 June 2014, draft regulations and a consultation were published. Jane Ellison, The Under-Secretary of State for Health explained that the Government were particularly looking for views on the emergence of any new evidence including the wider implications of introducing standardised packaging. This consultation ended on 7 August 2014. On 21 January 2015, the Under-Secretary of State for Health announced that the Government had decided to bring forward the legislation for standardised packaging before the end of this Parliament.

This note gives an overview of the debate. As such, it is not a comprehensive account of the arguments for and against the use of standardised packaging or an evaluation of the different views expressed as to the impact that standardised packaging might have on public health, the incidence of smuggling and the compliance costs to business. The Government’s summary report to its public consultation looks in detail at the range of views.

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