Standard cigarette packs ‘could save 2,000 lives a year’

In collaboration with the Press Association

Standardised cigarette packs would save lives by reducing the number of people who start smoking, according to an expert in tobacco control.

“These latest studies add further weight to the considerable body of evidence around the impact of standard packs” - George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK

The comments accompany a summary of research evidence by the journal Addiction, suggesting that stopping just one in 20 young people from taking up the habit would save 2,000 lives in the UK each year.

Westminster MPs are expected to vote on the measure in mid-March, and any law could come into force in 2016.

Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, George Butterworth, said the analysis provided further confirmation of the growing evidence supporting standard packs.

“When we began campaigning for plain, standardised tobacco packaging three years ago, the evidence was clear. Packaging clearly influences how smokers and non-smokers, adults and children think about cigarettes. 

“These latest studies add further weight to the considerable body of evidence around the impact of standard packs,” he said.

Introduced in Australia in 2012, ‘standard’ tobacco packets have identical size, shape and colour. Although the measure is commonly known as "plain packaging", the packs feature prominent health warnings and bear the companies’ brand names in a standardised font.

A series of studies - including research in Australia and psychological studies around the response to cigarette packaging in the UK, published in the journal Addiction, have found:

  • Plain packaging reduced unconscious urges to smoke, even in current smokers
  • Fewer people made their cigarette packs visible to others in cafes and bars in Australia after the new rules
  • The size, shape and opening method of current packs affect brand appeal and increase sales
  • Removing branding draws more attention to health warnings in occasional smokers
  • Standardised packs are more effective than larger health warnings

“The experience of Australia – where the new packs have been in place for over two years – has also shown the positive impact of removing brightly coloured packaging,” said Butterworth. 

“There is overwhelming support from across the political spectrum as well as from the public. With MPs due to vote on this issue before the election, it’s great to have extra ammunition in the fight to reduce the devastating impact of tobacco,” he added.

Tobacco control expert Professor Robert West, who is the journal’s editor-in-chief, said: "All the pieces are building the same picture, which is that it is going to have a reduction. None of the studies are pointing in the other direction.

"Even if it only prevented one in 20 young people from starting, and had absolutely no effect at all on existing smokers, it would still end up saving 2,000 lives a year. That's a testimony to how dangerous smoking is."

However, he said it was too soon to say whether plain packaging had reduced the number of young smokers in Australia.

He said the data was "suggestive, but not conclusive" as "the effect would have to be enormous for it to be picked up in the overall prevalence data".

The Westminster vote in March will be for legislation in England; Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will decide separately on whether to implement any change in the law. Wales has already said it will press ahead.


  • Plain Packaging: Weighing up the evidence on standardised packaging for tobacco products (2015). Addiction