Prospective longitudinal study of tobacco company adaptation to standardised packaging in the UK: Identifying circumventions and closing loopholes

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Abstract

Objectives UK standardised packaging legislation was introduced alongside pack size and product descriptor restrictions of the European Union Tobacco Products Directive to end tobacco marketing and misinformation via the pack. This paper aims to assess compliance with the restrictions and identify attempts to continue to market tobacco products and perpetuate misperceptions of harm post legislation. Design, setting and intervention A prospective study of the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products to the UK. Participants and outcomes We analysed commercial sales data to assess whether the legally required changes in pack branding, size and name were implemented. To explore any adaptations to products and packaging we analysed sales data, monthly pack purchases of factory-made (FM) cigarettes and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco, tobacco advertisements from retail trade magazines and articles on tobacco from commercial literature (retail trade, market analyst and tobacco company publications). Results One month after full implementation of the UK and European Union policies, 97% FM and 98% RYO was sold in compliant packaging. Nevertheless, tobacco companies made adaptations to tobacco products which enabled continued brand differentiation after the legislation came into force. For example, flavour names previously associated with low tar were systematically changed to colour names arguably facilitating continued misperceptions about the relative harms of products. Tobacco companies used the 1-year sell-through to their advantage by communicating brand name changes and providing financial incentives for retailers to buy large volumes of branded packs. In addition, tobacco companies continued to market their products to retailers and customers by innovating exemptions to the legislation, namely, filters, packaging edges, seals, multipack outers, RYO accessories, cigars and pipe tobacco. Conclusions Tobacco companies adapted to packaging restrictions by innovating their tobacco products and marketing activities. These findings should enable policy makers globally to close loopholes and increase the potential efficacy of standardised packaging policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere028506
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Open
Volume9
Issue number9
Early online date24 Sep 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2019

Keywords

  • plain packs
  • standardised packaging
  • tobacco
  • tobacco industry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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