Why plain and standardized packaging

What is plain and standardized packaging?

The truth about tobacco products should be plain to see and not hidden behind a colourful façade of effective marketing features. Plain and standardized tobacco packaging and products is a policy measure that strips away all marketing and promotional capacities from tobacco packages and products.

Plain and standardized packaging would prohibit all promotional features on all tobacco packaging, including the use of colours, images, logos, slogans, distinctive fonts, and finishes. Only the brand name would be allowed.  Health warnings would remain on packages and become more noticeable.  The size and shape of the package would be standardized, thus prohibiting specialty package formats, such as slim and superslim cigarette packages that reduce warning size and overtly target women.  The appearance of cigarettes would also be standardized, at a minimum prohibiting the use of branding, logos, colours and special finishes, and establishing standards for cigarette length and diameter.

Why is plain and standardized packaging important?

Tobacco packaging is one of the last and most effective places for companies to promote their products, often using eye-catching logos, colours, and shapes to appeal to consumers.

Plain and standardized packaging is important as it will:

  1.  eliminate promotional aspects of tobacco packaging and products;
  2.  restrict deception conveyed through packaging and products;
  3.  enhance the effectiveness of health warnings;
  4.  reduce tobacco use.

Plain packaging will build on existing regulation that requires health warnings, and that prohibits misleading descriptors such as “light” and “mild”.

How do tobacco companies use the package and product for marketing?

The tobacco product and its package are one of the most important remaining spaces for tobacco marketing. These spaces, often referred to as mini-billboards, are tools that promote glamour, sexiness, masculinity, and health. The tobacco industry is regularly reinventing package and product appearances through innovative and attractive designs, formats, colours, textures, logos, messages, names and fancy papers. These marketing strategies entice new users, create brand imagery and discourage smokers trying to quit.

Youth are a particularly impressionable population and a valuable new user group for the tobacco industry. Tobacco company packages and products appeal to  this audience. Studies show that youth respond to such packages, describing them as ‘exclusive’, ‘elegant’ and ‘sophisticated’. These responses shape positive image associations with tobacco use early on and contribute to tobacco smoking uptake in youth.  

They even prey upon young women, masking their products to look like cosmetics or perfume and use descriptive words like “slim” or “delicate” which play off concerns around body image.  Slim and super-slim cigarettes are also a marketing tactic used to convey imageries of glamour.  Research shows that smokers of slims and super slims believe that these cigarettes are not as harmful as regular cigarettes and they help to reduce body weight.  A product that kills more than half of its users should not be allowed to be marketed with any attractive qualities. 

Why is action necessary?

In Canada, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in Canada.  Current smoking prevalence has been declining but remains at 18%, representing 5.4 million Canadians  An unacceptably high number of young people start smoking every year. Each year tobacco kills 37,000 Canadians. Plain packs will protect Canadian youth and prevent uptake of a dangerous and addictive product, and will benefit public health generally.