Today marks the United Kingdom’s introduction of larger and more grotesque graphic health warnings on standardised packaging for cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco, with the banning of some cigarettes. This is the toughest set of anti-tobacco control measures since the United Kingdom smoking bans from 2006 – 2007 (2008 Isle of Man) though cigars and pipe tobacco are exempt.

Tobacco packaging health warnings were first introduced in the UK in 1971 on the side of cigarette packs, followed in 1991 with EU regulations that transferred the health warnings to the front and back of tobacco packs in large font, making it clear and visible to all consumers. By 2003 those warnings were replaced by much bigger and bolder warnings taking up 40% of the front and 50% of the back of all tobacco products, warnings that were more than clear to even the most long sighted of people. Though, in 2008 it was felt that smokers were somehow not understanding the warnings so the bold font on the back of tobacco packaging was replaced with grotesque pictures, just in case adult consumers misunderstood the implications of health problems. Surely by this point there could be no debate about the possibility of any tobacco consumer, new or regular, not understanding the messages. Now EU health warnings are going from stern, to bold, to then a little abusive, to now just the ridiculous, as they will now have to cover 65% on both the front and back of cigarette and hand rolling tobacco packaging, plus 50% on the side of cigarette packs. Not only are these new warnings basically the packaging itself, but they also have to be even more grotesque picture warnings, front and back. Cigarette packs sides will now read “Smoking Kills Quit Now” which is not a warning, but a command. This gives away what this new legislation is really about, which is not to inform or warn consumers but to shout obscene abuse at them. Yes we all know the dangers of smoking, but most actions carry danger including driving, eating, drinking and even exercise, and most actions in life are not necessarily a bad or good thing but just a thing that comprises both good and bad effects and it is up to the individual to judge how to achieve the correct balance through their actions, not the state.

Implementing the Tobacco Products Directive (Directive 2014/40/EU)

This European tobacco legislation is accompanied by British tobacco legislation, which takes control of the remaining 35% on the front and back of cigarette and rolling tobacco packaging. This remainder is now filled in with dull olive green, with the exception of the font. Although brand names are allowed they all have to be in the same standard off white font. Even cigarettes will have to have a standard appearance. By default this makes the “health warnings” the new branding. The so called justification behind this, is it may prevent one or two children a year from taking up smoking, even though there are already laws to stop children from smoking. We could also prevent a few accidents by putting speed bumps on the M1, let cars go no faster than 10 mph, have a curfew from dusk till dawn and a ban on DIY and cooking. Who this will really affect though, is the adult consumer who needs that branding to get a feel for the product before purchasing. Also, like it or not, we like to identify with brands, from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive and it should not be any different for tobacco which is a legal product. Nobody would accept it if they go to watch a film at the multiplex but the posters only said the name and genre of the films, so why should smokers be treated differently.

The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015

If these two measures are not enough, by law from today, production of flavoured cigarettes and 10 packs for the UK market will cease today. Menthols are due to be banned in 2020. This will mean a reduction in consumer choice or, a better way of putting it, the introduction of partial prohibition. 10 packs have been very handy to the hard up and the occasional smoker. 10 packs can also help encourage those who are trying to cut down. Flavoured and menthol cigarettes have given smokers consumer choice. Not everyone wants the same meal every day and not every smoker wants the same smoke every day.

So how did this happen and what will the implications be? Part of this legislation was first put in the pipeline by the previous Labour government to be implemented in their next term if they were to win the 2010 election, but they did NOT, so the proposal was abandoned. In a democratic society that would mean the public have voted, marking the end of the matter. The problem is fundamentalist groups never know how to take no for an answer or even compromise. So with the tyrants throwing all their toys at the government a U-turn was made for a parliamentary vote on the legislation. The Conservatives were split, only two “Liberal” Democrats voted no and just three Individual Labour MPs voted no, achieving a yes percentage that would put third world dictatorships to shame. All of UKIP voted no and the one and only Green voted yes. Though the legislation starts from today, retailers will be allowed an extra year to clear their branded tobacco stock, so the grotesque packs and pouches will not reach consumers instantly. Despite the legislation at present having minor effects on consumers the long term implications will hit smokers very hard directly and indirectly. Awareness for public health is the official reason given for the radical legislation but the reality behind it is to use the grotesque packaging as the new yellow badge Star of David, designed to intimidate, humiliate and dehumanise its consumers in public. Smoking levels may drop a little in the long term, but it would be for all the wrong reasons, which in no way could be classed as a success when bullying and intimidation is involved, because public health with a great big stick is in no way healthy.  We already know this is nothing to do with health. They are trying to ban anything that even looks like smoking or anything that provides any freedom of choice.

Only when they have been shut down and tolerance and reason restored, can health improve naturally. While still allowing choice for smokers.

The Public Whip: Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 — 11/03/2015

Article edited on 24th December 2016