I heard on the news that some countries in the European Union are planning a measure that will force Tobacco companies to use a generic package for their cigarettes (for a debate on the UK proposals see this BBC link; for a BBC news story on the original UK proposals see here). They want all the brands to have the same pack and use the same font, size & color. They say that by this measure they will somehow reduce smoking across the population.

I see that the measure is already law in Australia and it will be implemented starting December this year.

I was wondering if there are any studies that support this claim ?

  • could you please provide a link to said news ?
    – Gyom
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 7:59
  • Oh, I'm from Romania , so I don't think a link to a romanian site will be of much use. I'm trying to find the link on the UE site & I'll come back to you. Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 8:01
  • This is notable...
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 8:48
  • 1
    Link to BBC story - bbc.co.uk/news/health-19198934
    – Tom77
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 9:29
  • 1
    Hope you don't mind the edits to add links etc. I also subtly changed the scope as it isn't EU-wide, just some specific countries.
    – matt_black
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 13:27

3 Answers 3


In 2011, Cancer Council Australia and Quit Victoria issued a position statement, in which they summarise the evidence of the effect of plain packaging.

They draw a number of conclusions, but the relevant ones include:

  • "Current pack colours and imagery can dilute the impact of graphic health warnings."
  • "Unregulated package colouring and imagery contribute to consumers’ misperceptions that certain brands are safer than others."
  • That plain packs and larger health warnings reduce the appeal to both adults and adolescents.

They rely on 24 different experimental studies.

It is worth noting, that the relevant experiment studies (e.g. see page 11) tended to be surveys and studies measuring people's responses to plain packs. These is not as powerful as studies actually showing the effect in practice, but that has to wait until such legislature is implemented in some countries.

They also examine the arguments put forward by tobacco companies, and cite studies that undermine or refute those arguments.


There is some research here and here that shows generic packaging makes smoking less attractive to youth and those who are not yet addicted as it greatly cuts down the "cool factor". Several countries have considered having such a ban in place but as none have enacted them yet there's no long-term research.

Effects will likely be:

  • A decrease in youth smoking uptake.
  • An evening out of sales across different brands. Once you have the brand recognition people are likely to go for the cheaper types as there's no benefit to being seen with an expensive brand.
  • Cheaper brands will get stronger with more added nicotine as the tobacco companies try to hold onto the smokers they do have by increasing retention through addiction rather than branding.
  • 3
    Could you please link your claims back to the research? I don't see where the research concludes that cheaper brands will get more nicotine, nor how their survey-based approaches would support this.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 13:47
  • I don't get the point of the more nicotine for cheaper brands. Actually, I could understand it the other way around. More expensive brands, not being competitive for the price, nor for the looks, could try increasing nicotine to increase addiction of customers to their products.
    – nico
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:56

It won't break smoking habits (as seen in the FDA graphic warning label judgment in August), but it is less attractive to the youth and to children, and it is believed they will focus more on tobacco rather than on the fancy package (See here a study sum up for the French Parliament).

It's worth noticing that while some countries want to make this a European Union regulation proposal, in some countries in the EU tobacco advertising is still legal (eg Germany, Greece).

In my country, research (Effectiveness perception of plain packaging of tobacco products: findings from France) has only proven that neutral packages were perceived as "unattractive", "ugly", and "made the dissuasive pictures and messages more visible".

The main study was conducted by some anti-tobacco group leaders but also tobacco research doctors.

This study, which also relies on government-conducted qualitative and quantitative studies made in 2007 and 2008, lists several references :

  • Beede, Lawson, Shepherd (1991), The promotional impact of cigarette packaging: a study of adolescent responses to cigarette plainpacks, paper presented to the Australian and New Zealand Association and management Educator’s conference, Launceston,,Australia.
  • Beede and Lawson (1992), The effect of plain packaging on the perception of health warnings, Public health, 106 (4), 315-322.
  • Beede and Lawson (1991), Brand image attraction: the promotional impact of cigarette packaging, The New Zealand family physician, 18, 175-177
  • Canadian Cancer Society (1994), Putting health first : the case for plain packaging of tobacco products, april, submitted to the House of Commons Standing on Health.
  • Canadian Cancer Society (1994), Responses to arguments against plain packaging on tobacco products, may 24, 1994, submitted to members of the standing committee on health.
  • Canadian Cancer Society (1994), Marketing Professors endorse plain packaging of tobacco products, May 23, together with statements of 24 marketing professors.
  • Carr-Cregg and Gray (1990), Generic pack : a possible solution to the marketing of tobacco to young people, Medical J of Australia, 153, 685-6.
  • Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (1992), Health warnings and contents labelling on tobacco products, Report prepared for the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy Tobacco Task Force, Melbourne: Anti-cancer council of Victoria.
  • Centre for health promotion (1994), Effects of plain cigarette packaging among youth, University of Toronto, ONT
  • Donovan (1993), Smokers’ and non-smokers’ reactions to standard packaging of cigarettes, University of Western Australia.
  • Freeman, Chapman and Rimmer (2008), The case for the plain packaging of tobacco products, Addiction, 103, 580-590.
  • Goldberg, Liefeld, Madill, and Vredenburg (1999), The Effect of Plain Packaging on Response to Health Warnings, American Journal of Public Health, 89 (9), 1434-1435.
  • Hammond (2007), The case for plain packaging: brand descriptors & design, National conference on tobacco or health, Edmonton, Canada, October 2nd.
  • Health Canada (1994), Background information on Tobacco and plain packaging, Ottawa, ONT, April.
  • Jamieson (1993), Plain cigarette packaging – A turn-off for teens ! Canadian Cancer Society, Toronto, ONT.
  • Luik J. (1998), Plain packaging and the marketing of cigarettes, Luik J. editor., Oxfordshire: Admap Publications.
  • Madill-Marshall, Goldberg, Gorn, Liefeld, Vredenburg (1996), Two experiments assessing the visual and semantic images associated with current and plain cigarette packaging, Advances in Consumer Research, 23, 267-268.
  • Mahood (1992), Generic or plain tobacco packages: moving toward real bans on tobacco advertising, 8th world conference on tobacco or health, Buenos Aires, April 1992.
  • Welcome to the site! You may want to have a look at the welcome to new users page that explains how Skeptics.SE works. You should reference all of your claims and I would suggest removing your personal opinions that add nothing to the answer.
    – nico
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:52
  • More specifically, "It can't reduce smoking" is a huge, bold claim and it has to be corroborated by evidence. Also either the study you cite proves something or it does not prove it. Saying that it "proves" something implies that the study is somehow flawed, but you are not explaining why that would be the case.
    – nico
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:54
  • Sorry for the misunderstood quotes. What I meant is that it is no surprise that packages designed to be ugly and have nothing but dissuasive messages are indeed perceived as ugly, unattractive and make those messages more visible. The study was not flawed (at least I dont think so), but very partial, which can be a good thing too. "It can't reduce smoking" is of course a bold claim which I could explain (it would not stop smokers from smoking because they would just buy cigarette cases like in the good old days) but I wanted to point that it's not the primary aim of such packages.
    – Yves
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 17:29
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    You make 3 bold claims in the first sentence alone. Please provide some references to support them.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 18:12
  • I think you shouldnt have edited my personal point of view : I didn't want to appear more objective on this than I am on this matter, beeing myself a regular smoker since the age of 19, and by removing my point of view you turned the second sentence into another bold claim when it was just an opinion. The first sentence was is my interpretation of the study I mention (I'll add a more attractive version). Anyway thanks for the grammar edits.
    – Yves
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 18:56

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