Why plain packaging for cigarettes is a bad idea

The UK is about to become the second country in the world (after Australia) and the first in Europe to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes. It is due to be implemented by 20th May 2016, although it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. I wrote about it here in 2011 and my view still hasn’t changed.

Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK
Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK

And I think it’s a bad idea for a few reasons.

  1. Taking away the branding will allow cheaper brands to compete on a level playing field with the big brands. Rather than making it less attractive they will make it more affordable. If you can’t see the difference in the packs and you’re new to smoking, why would you buy the bigger and more expensive brands?
  2. It will make it easier for fakes to come into the market as the packaging is even easier to copy. Fake cigarettes aren’t made to the same standard and could even be more dangerous and contain all sorts of additional nasties.
  3. You will make it cooler. It is now so obviously a bad thing that it becomes something that is more attractive to do. Anyone who has ever smoked, knows the dangers and ignores them. In Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology he proves using brain scans that when smokers see the warnings on packs, rather than put them off smoking, it creates an almost religious like fervour. They become more desirable – despite all good sense saying otherwise. The more you try and drive it underground, the more prevalent it will become. As a parallel, it’s not exactly difficult to get hold of Cannabis these days and that’s meant to be banned altogether.
  4. It appears that the tobacco industry are going to take the government to court for loss of trademark value. According to the Telegraph, this could be for up to £11 billion.
  5. Smokers pay their own way – Because they kill themselves with smoking they have finite lives. they pay fortunes into the NHS through the taxes on cigarettes and on average, die much younger. The cynic in me says the government know this and by taking this route, they will maybe even make more money in tax revenue on smoking. The UK government take £11 billion PER YEAR from smokers. Are they really trying to kill this golden goose?

The only good plan (according to the Sun) in my mind is to ban packs of ten cigarettes and Menthol cigarettes. These are definitely entry products for young smokers. There will always be enterprising kids at school who will break bulk and sell singles (or loosies as they were in my day) but it will make smoking a little harder to start.

It’s only my view, but I am convinced I see more young people smoking than ever before. Putting cigarettes behind doors in the retail outlets doesn’t appear to have made any difference – It may even have had the opposite effect to the one they claim they were aiming at – And they are ploughing on anyway.

Debranding cigarettes

Celebrities smoking ad looking rather uncool doing it - In fact they all look rather haggard and pinched
Celebrities smoking and looking rather uncool doing it - In fact they all look rather haggard and pinched

As a former smoker who started when I was very young, I can’t help but think that the government have got it 100% totally wrong by aiming to remove all the branding from cigarette packaging and driving them under the counter.
Don’t they realise that all they will do is make them cool again?

Most normal people have got bored of smoking. It’s just not that much fun for the obvious downsides, but now it’s getting naughty again i’m quite tempted to start again.

Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology proved scientifically that smokers were actually turned on by the ‘smoking kills’ symbols’ on the pack. it triggered a reaction of almost religious fervour.  Driving them under the counter should have them foaming at the mouth and salivating at newsagent’s windows. Pavlov’s smoking dog.

Call me a cynic if you wish, but again, this allows the government to stand on the high ground and claim ignorance.
Banning smoking in public places did nothing to the rates of smoking, it just closed lots of pubs and working men’s clubs. It removed liberty and choice whilst at the same time keeping up the tax revenue from smoking. Smokers more than pay for the entire NHS and have the advantage of dying younger, so it is not in the government’s interest to actually stop people smoking, but it helps their perception if they appear as though that’s what they want.

This move will do the same as the smoking ban and should even encourage a few more kids to give it a try.

According to the BBC this morning, 200 people a day die from smoking related illnesses every day, so they need to recruit 200 new smokers to replace them. I think this should keep them nicely on track.

If you want to stop kids smoking, you would be far better to show very uncool people smoking and looking haggard or maybe even tell them it’s good for them, like vegetables.

Thanks to wow.ie for the image