Global trend of plain tobacco packaging gains momentum 

Many countries have already adopted plain tobacco packaging or are moving ahead with plans to do so. Claire Jenns reports.  

Many countries have already adopted plain tobacco packaging or are moving ahead with plans to do so.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), 42 countries and territories are currently moving ahead with plain tobacco packaging, with 25 having already adopted the measure, three having it in practice and 14 in the process of implementation. 

A report by the CCS ranks 211 countries and territories on the size of their health warnings on cigarette packages and lists the 138 countries and territories that now require graphic picture warnings. 

The report heralds a new Canadian requirement for warnings to be directly added on individual cigarettes. This measure will appear on cigarettes in Canada by April 2024. Australia is set to follow Canada’s lead. 

Plain packaging is currently under formal consideration in at least 14 countries: Armenia, Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Czechia, Fiji, Hong Kong, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Russia and South Africa. 

GlobalData analysis finds that the tobacco and tobacco products packaging market will decline at a negative compound annual growth rate of under 1% by 2027. 

International tobacco treaty 

Guidelines under the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) recommend that countries consider implementing plain packaging. 

Plain packaging includes health warnings on packages and prohibits tobacco company branding such as colours, logos and design elements. 

It also requires the brand name to be a standard font size, style and location on the package and the brand portion of each package to be the same colour, such as an unattractive brown. Finally, the package format is standardised. 

Plain packaging regulations aim to put an end to packaging being used for product promotion, increase the effectiveness of package warnings, curb package deception and decrease tobacco use. 

Tobacco picture warnings 

The report reveals there are now 138 countries and territories that require picture health warnings on cigarette packages, an increase from 134 in 2021. This represents 66.5% of the world’s population. 

Guidelines under the FCTC recommend that warnings should be as large as is achievable, include a rotated series of graphic pictures and be placed at the top of both the front and back of packages. 

Picture warnings are especially valuable for low and middle-income countries where there are higher rates of illiteracy and where governments may have few resources. 

Health departments determine the content of warnings and the tobacco industry is responsible for printing the warnings on packages. 

CCS senior policy analyst Rob Cunningham described the measures as a global trend that will “reduce global tobacco industry sales and save lives lost to cancer and other tobacco-related diseases.”