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Plain Packaging for Tobacco Will Become the Global Norm


Contact: Megan Arendt

Office: 202-659-4310

Email: arendtm@ash.org


But will the U.S. be last?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – March 12, 2015 – Yesterday, Britain’s House of Commons overwhelmingly approved a law requiring plain packaging for tobacco products, just one day after Ireland’s president signed into law the same measure. If the House of Lord’s also approves, as it is expected to on Monday, the number of countries requiring plain packaging will have tripled in one week (Australia introduced their law in 2011). Scotland, France, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand, among others, are expected to follow suit, and the European Union as a whole is also considering the measure. But, while plain packaging is proven to decrease smoking, don’t expect similar legislation in the United States any time soon.

Plain – or standardized – packaging is a big victory for public health, and a huge blow to Big Tobacco, whose stock prices have tumbled this week. Tobacco kills over 6 million people each year, and the vector of the tobacco epidemic is tobacco industry marketing. As more and more countries have banned all other forms of tobacco advertising, plain packaging removes the last tiny billboard the tobacco industry can use to push its deadly products. Studies in Australia have shown that plain packaging is effective in convincing smokers to quit and keeping youth from starting.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., we are stuck with tiny, side-of-package textual warnings developed in the 1960s and not updated since 1984. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration attempted to introduce graphic warnings in 2011, but they were struck down after tobacco companies sued in federal court. The FDA says they will try again, but almost four years later there has been no progress.

Tobacco stock prices have tumbled this week amid the news from Ireland and England. Philip Morris International (PM) has dropped 4.17%, while R.J. Reynolds (RAI) and Altria (MO) have dropped 6.79% and 5.77%, respectively. UK-based British American Tobacco (BTI) and Imperial (ITYBY) fell over 5%.

Ireland and England are braced for the inevitable lawsuits. Australia successfully defended their plain packaging law in their supreme court but is still mired in international trade lawsuits from Philip Morris International and five countries under World Trade Organization rules. Some of the legal costs for those countries challenging Australia are being paid by tobacco companies, as detailed on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Japan Tobacco, Imperial, and Philip Morris International have promised to sue Ireland and England, likely both domestically and through trade agreements.

The public health community has called for tobacco to be exempted from trade agreements in order to stop the tobacco industry from being able to launch trade disputes over health regulations. The U.S. is considering the unique treatment of tobacco in the giant Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, but politicians from tobacco-growing states are demanding that tobacco companies retain the right to sue governments to block public health legislation.

As more countries implement plain packaging as well as tobacco exemptions in trade agreements, the world will be able to reverse the tobacco epidemic and reduce the estimated 1 billion tobacco-related deaths this century.


Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is the nation’s oldest anti-tobacco organization dedicated to health for all. ASH was formed in 1967 in response to the U.S. Surgeon General Report in order to use legal action to fight tobacco and protect nonsmokers. Today, because tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, ASH uses global tools to counter the global tobacco epidemic. Learn more about our programs at www.ash.org.

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