Updated: Thursday, 23rd November 2017 @ 12:04pm

Plain cigarette packaging – the key to deterring young smokers or an 'excessive regulation'?

Plain cigarette packaging – the key to deterring young smokers or an 'excessive regulation'?

By Katie Moore

Compulsory plain packaging on all cigarettes may be a step too far and might not reduce deaths, a former director of a major European packaging supplier has told MM.

Desperate to lower the number of young people taking up smoking, only last week a South Manchester MP urged the government to enforce plain packaging.

MP John Leech fronted a number of regional groups eager to see cigarette packaging standardised, arguing it’s currently too attractive and directly targets the young.

However Mike Ridgway from Bradford, former MD of a European packaging supplier, firmly opposes this campaign.

He said: “I believe passionately that going down the route of excessive regulation is not the answer to youth smoking take up.

“An approach should be by increased education into the perils of smoking and the effect on people.”

So as the battle wages on how much proof is out there that plain packaging is going to stop our teens taking up the habit?

The policy was legislated in Australia from December 2012 and the UK government are putting similar plans on hold to wait for results from overseas.

However, KPMG published a study on November 4 stating that overall tobacco consumption had NOT reduced during this first year.

This was paired with an increase in black market sales from 11.8% to 13.3%, costing the Australian government and taxpayers an estimated $1billion.

One counterfeit cigarette brand, incidentally named Manchester, now holds a 1.4% market share.

Mr Ridgway believes this to be an almost obvious consequence of the new legislation.

He said: “You can put all the security features you like on legal packs. But if we cut criminals’ costs by giving them just one pack design to copy rather than 101, then it’s criminals that win.”

While plain packaging has not yet achieved its desired effect, there is also the argument that aiming campaigns at young people in the first place is a mistake.

Simon Chapman is Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

He believes that any drop in teenage smoking rates is achieved ‘without targeting teenagers, which evidence suggests is about the worst thing you can do’.

Offering an alternative reason, he said: “They live in a society where smoking has become thoroughly denormalised.”

So what is the answer?

Mr Ridgway believes we should follow Germany’s example, taking youths onto hospital wards to see the horrible and tragic effects of smoking for themselves.

According to Germany’s Federal Centre for Health Education, smoking rates amongst young people plunged drastically over a 12-year period from 2001.

Not only that – the proportion of people aged 12 to 17 who have never taken a puff is at an all-time high, from 40.5% in 2001 to 71.7% this year.

The UK is still taking those tentative first steps of a highly complex issue, but many still claim that the evidence suggests education rather than packaging is key to cutting the habit.

Picture courtesy of Lynae Zebest via Flickr, with thanks.

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.