Plain Packaging in the UK

This page was last edited on at


Plain, or standardised packaging as it is formally known, refers to a policy which mandates the removal of all brand images, colours and messages from tobacco products. Tobacco products are instead packaged in the same size, shape, style and colour packaging (usually dark brown or green) with all brand names and variants in the same typeface and font size.

In the UK, plain packaging legislation was approved in March 2015 after many years of public consultation and debate and significant and sustained opposition from tobacco companies and their allies. This page provides a timeline detailing the evolution of plain packaging policy in the UK.

Visit the pages on tobacco industry opposition to plain packaging 2012 and 2015 for a detailed history of the industry’s opposition to the policy.


May: Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control

The Consultation on the Future of Tobacco Control mentioned plain packaging for the first time.1


November: Healthy Lives, Healthy People

In November 2010, the UK Government announced it would consider introducing plain packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products. Its official Strategy for Public Health in England (March 2011) stated:

“The Government will look at whether the plain packaging of tobacco products could be an effective way to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking and to help those who are trying to quit smoking.”2


March: Tobacco Control Plan for England

The Tobacco Control Plan for England (March 2011) included a commitment to a public consultation to:

“Look at whether the plain packaging of tobacco products could be an effective way to reduce the number of young people who take up smoking and to support adult smokers who want to quit, and consult on options by the end of the year.”3


February: Regulatory Policy Committee gives Amber Rating

The Regulatory Policy Committee (a non-departmental body affiliated with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), which provides the UK government with external, independent scrutiny of new regulatory proposals, 4 gave the Department of Health’s impact assessment on plain packaging5 an amber rating.6 This meant that the Impact Assessment was considered ‘fit for purpose’ on the condition that changes were made to the Impact Assessment to respond to the concerns raised in the rating summary.

April – August: First Public Consultation on Plain Packaging

The Government’s consultation on plain packaging (Image 1) commenced on 16 April 2012 and closed on 10 August 2012.

As part of the Government’s consultation, the Department of Health published an independent scientific review which examined the findings of 37 academic studies that provided the most current evidence of the potential impacts of plain tobacco packaging. This review found that:

“There is strong evidence to support the propositions set out in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) relating to the role of plain packaging in helping to reduce smoking rates; that is, that plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, it would increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages, and it would reduce the use of design techniques that may mislead consumers about the harmfulness of tobacco products. In addition, the studies in this review show that plain packaging is perceived by both smokers and non-smokers to reduce initiation among non-smokers and cessation-related behaviours among smokers.”7

The tobacco industry’s reaction to the consultation was extremely hostile. Many of the arguments the industry and its front groups have made against plain packaging were very similar to those that they had used to oppose earlier regulations. There was also consistency with previous behaviour in the way that the industry conveyed these arguments to their key stakeholders, i.e. policy makers, retailers and the general public.

In their submissions to the Consultation, in addition to critiquing the pre-existing evidence on the potential efficacy of plain packaging, each of the big four tobacco companies in the UK argued against plain packaging using the voices of a number of seemingly ‘independent’ experts and organisations.891011 However, upon closer inspection, many of these organisations and experts have connections with the tobacco industry.

Click here for industry-connected organisations cited by tobacco companies in their submissions to the UK consultation.


May: Plain Packaging Omitted from the Queen’s Speech

Image 2: Newstatesman online article 8 May 2013

Despite political and media speculation that it would be included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2013, plain packaging was not incorporated in the Government’s legislative programme.

It was widely reported that the reason for the Government’s abandonment of plain packaging (along with other public health measures such as minimum pricing for alcohol) was the influence of Conservative campaign strategist, Lynton Crosby. Crosby owns an Australian PR and lobbying firm called the Crosby Textor Group, “a specialist opinion research, strategic communications and campaigns company”12 which has links with both the tobacco and alcohol industries.13 Sparking concern from public health groups, Crosby Textor was appointed by the Conservative Party in December 2012 to provide ‘strategic direction’ for the next election.14

Despite owning CTF and being a lobbying specialist, Downing Street stated that Lynton Crosby’s meetings with the Prime Minister and other ministers would not be publicly disclosed as he was classed as a political advisor. 15

On 8 May 2013, despite plain packaging’s omission in the Queen’s speech, a spokesperson for David Cameron insisted that no decision had been taken over the issue.16

July: We Will “Wait and See”

On 12 July 2013, it was announced that the British Government would await the outcomes of plain packaging in Australia before going ahead with legislation in the UK. The ‘wait and see’ argument is an example of many arguments used by Tobacco Companies against plain packaging legislation. The announcement was met with disappointment from the public health community and sparked criticism from MPs regarding Lynton Crosby‘s links with the tobacco industry.17

November: Government U-Turn – Chantler Review Commissioned

On 28 November 2013, the Government announced that it had commissioned Paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler to conduct a review of the most recent evidence for plain packaging. The review was expected to conclude in March 2014. This move followed an indication that the House of Lords would support a cross-party amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would allow the introduction of plain packaging.1819 These proposed amendments were published on 17th December 2013.20 Health Minister Jane Ellison suggested that, if the emerging evidence following the introduction of plain packaging in Australia was sufficiently in favour of plain packaging, then legislation may be introduced relatively quickly.21

The media speculated that the Government’s U-turn was a cynical political move to protect itself from defeat in the House of Lords over the issue and from criticism from the pro-plain packaging movement in the build-up to the 2015 General Election.22


February: Parliament Accepts Amendments to Children and Families Bill

On 10 February 2014, UK Parliament accepted amendments to the Children and Families Bill, which would enable the Government to:

1. Introduce regulations requiring plain packaging for tobacco products;

2. Introduce regulations making it an offence to sell e-cigarettes to children under 18;

3. Make it an offence for an adult to buy cigarettes for anyone under the age of 18 (proxy purchasing).2324

In the whipped vote, 453 MPs voted in favour of the amendments and only 24 voted against.

April: Chantler Review Published

On 3 April 2014 Sir Cyril Chantler’s findings were published.25
Chantler concluded:

“Having reviewed the evidence it is in my view highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking and implausible that it would increase the consumption of tobacco. I am persuaded that branded packaging plays an important role in encouraging young people to smoke and in consolidating the habit irrespective of the intentions of the industry.”(p6)25

Health Minister Ellison announced that the Government would, as a result, conduct another brief Consultation on the proposed legislation.26

June – August: Second Public Consultation on Plain Packaging

On 26 June 2014, the Government published the ‘Consultation on the introduction of regulations for standardised packaging of tobacco products’ The consultation ran for six weeks until 7 August 2014. For more information, read the TobaccoTactics page on the Second Consultation.

August – March: EU Notification Period

Following the two public consultations, the UK Government drafted regulations and notified the European Union (EU) of its intent to introduce plain packaging on 29 August 2014. As part of the notification process, the EU had six months until 2 March 2015, to consider any responses. Eleven were received from EU member states, namely Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. 27 Pending approval from the EU, the UK government needed to finalise its plans for plain packaging very shortly afterwards in order for the regulation to be passed before the impending General Election.28

On 16 December, Ellison responded to a Parliamentary question about the introduction of plain packaging:

“The Government has not yet made a final decision on whether to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products. The Government continues to consider carefully all issues relevant to the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products and a decision will be taken in due course. The United Kingdom notified the draft regulations under the EU Technical Standards Directive (Directive 98/34/EC). Pursuant to this Directive, the regulations cannot be made until after the notification ‘standstill’ period has ended on 2 March 2015. If the Government does decide to proceed with standardised packaging, a decision will then be made as to the appropriate Parliamentary timetable for the proposed regulations.”29

In December 2014, nearly 4,000 public health professionals signed an open letter, sent to both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary, insisting that plain packaging regulations be approved before the election. The authors of the letter warned: “More than half a million children have taken up smoking since the government first announced it would consult on plain standardised packaging of cigarette packs in 2011, and every day hundreds more join them.”30


January: Government Announces it Will Lay Regulations

On 21 January 2015, the UK Government announced it would proceed with plain packaging legislation.31 Explaining the Government’s support, Ellison said:

“Having considered all the evidence, the Secretary of State and I believe that the policy packaging is a proportionate and justified response to the considerable public health harm from smoking tobacco. The Chief Medical Officer has confirmed this view.

I now propose that we lay regulations for standardised packaging in this Parliament to allow for them to come into force at the same time as the European Tobacco Products Directive in May 2016. In doing so we would be bringing the prospect of our first smoke-free generation one step closer.”31

Ellison said a free vote would be open to MPs in both Houses before May, thereby allowing the legislation to come into force before the General Election approved.

March: Plain Packaging Legislation Passed in the UK Parliament

On 11 March 2015, MPs in The House of Commons voted in favour of plain packaging (367 for and 113 against). The measure was broadly supported by Labour and Liberal Democrats with opposition coming from Conservative MPs.32 The legislation was subsequently accepted into the House of Lords on 16 March and came into effect on 20 May 2016 alongside the EU Tobacco Products Directive.33

Despite legal threats by the tobacco industry, legal opinion commissioned by Action for Smoking and Health and Cancer Research UK stated that plain packaging laws proposed in the UK were in line with EU law regarding trademarks and fundamental rights. The opinion concluded that tobacco companies would not be entitled to compensation where countries introduce legislation to protect public health.34

May: Tobacco Industry Launches Legal Campaign Against UK Government

On 22 May 2015, Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT) filed separate lawsuits challenging the UK law.35 The cases were taken against the UK Government for projected loss of income, breach of intellectual property and violation of UK and European Law.

On 26 May 2015, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) joined the legal battle and filed High Court action on the basis that standardised packaging measures infringed the UK’s obligations under World Trade Organisation rules. 36 Daniel Torreas, Managing Director JTI UK, claimed that “plain packaging will infringe fundamental legal rights without reducing smoking. Despite the lack of evidence that plain packaging works, the Government has decided to proceed and JTI must now protect its rights in the courts.”37


19 May: High Court Rules in Favour of Government

A day before the UK was due to come into force the UK High Court ruled that the legislation could proceed.38

20 May: Plain Packaging Comes into Force

The legislation came into force on 20 May 2016 giving tobacco companies one year to achieve full compliance. In the UK, the introduction of standardised packaging coincided with the implementation of the EU Tobacco Products Directive which sets out new rules on tobacco packaging such as the increased size and positioning of health warnings. The UK law on standardised packaging requires the following: 38

* No branding other than the product name in a standard font, size and colour;

* Prohibition of all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics;

* The only colour permitted on the external surface (excluding the pictorial health warning and written text) is Pantone 448C with matt finish;

* Cigarette packets must be cuboid in shape and contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes

* Packaging of hand-rolled tobacco must also be in same Pantone 448C colour and contain a minimum of 30g of tobacco.

TobaccoTactics Resources

For more information on plain packaging see:

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to TCRG publications. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Department of Health, Consultation on the future of tobacco control: Consultation Report, December 2008, accessed June 2016
  2. Secretary of State for Health, Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for public health in England, 30 November 2010, accessed June 2011
  3. Department of Health, Healthy lives, healthy people: a tobacco control plan for England, 9 March 2011, accessed 14 June 2011
  4. Regulatory Policy Committee, Home page, no date, accessed June 2016
  5. Department of Health, Standardised packaging for tobacco products, Impact Assessment, 5 March 2012, accessed June 2016
  6. Department of Health, Consultation stage impact assessment questions. 2012, London: UK Government
  7. C. Moodie, M. Stead, L. Bauld, et al. Plain Tobacco Packaging: A Systematic Review, Open University, Stirling University, Public Health Research Consortium & UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, April 2012, accessed June 2013
  8. British American Tobacco’s Submission to the UK Consultation on standardised packaging
  9. Imperial Tobacco’s Submission to the UK Consultation on standardised packaging
  10. Japan Tobacco International’s Submission to the UK Consultation on standardised packaging
  11. Philip Morris’ Submission to the UK Consultation on standardised packaging
  12. CT Group, Lynton Crosby, Co-Founder CTF Partners, accessed June 2013
  13. J. Lyons, Lobbying scandal: Ex-watchdog tells David Cameron aide Lynton Crosby to reveal who he works for, Mirror, 29 July 2013, accessed December 2013
  14. J. Doward, Campaigners raise alarm over tobacco giants’ lobbying against plain packaging, The Observer, 2 December 2012, accessed June 2012
  15. J. Lyons, Lynton Crosby: David Cameron under fire from all sides over aide’s links to tobacco and alcohol industries, The Mirror Online, 8 May 2013, accessed June 2013
  16. W. James, British cigarette branding plan stalls, prompting criticism, The Guardian, 8 May 2013
  17. T. Helm, J. Doward, David Cameron told to sack strategy chief over links to tobacco giants, The Observer, 13 July 2013, accessed July 2013
  18. Politics Home, Shadow Health Minister Luciana Berger calls on the Government to support standardised tobacco packaging and explains why it is a child protection issue, Dods, 7 November 2013, accessed December 2013, available from Yahoo, accessed March 2021
  19. Lord Faulkener of Worcester, Baroness Tyler of Enfield, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Lord McColl of Dulwich, Amendment to be moved in Grand Committee: Children and Families Bill, Session 2013-14, Hansard, 20 July 2013, accessed December 2013
  20. Lords Amendments: Children and Families Bill – 57B, 17 December 2013, accessed December 2013
  21. Tobacco Packaging, Hansard, 28 November 2013, accessed December 2013
  22. R. Hutton, T. Penny, UK puts plain tobacco packaging back on agenda with review, Bloomberg, 28 November 2013, accessed December 2013
  23. S. MacGuill. House of Enablers – Does anything now go for tobacco control in the UK? Euromonitor International, 11 February 2014
  24. Smokefree Action Coalition. SFAC welcomes Parliament’s support for a package of measures to reduce smoking and protect children. Smokefree Action Coalition News, 10 February 2014
  25. abSir Cyril Chantler, Standardised packaging of tobacco: Report of the independent review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler, Kings College London, 3 April 2014, accessed April 2014
  26. BBC, Government to move ahead with standardised cigarette packs, BBC News: Politics, 3 April 2014, accessed April 2014
  27. European Commission, The standardised packaging of tobacco products regulation, Notification number: 2014/427/UK, 29 August 2014, accessed January 2015
  28. K. Evans-Reeves, Plain cigarette packaging: Is the government stalling as election approaches?, The Conversation, 17 December 2014, accessed January 2015
  29. J. Ellison, Minister of Health, House of Commons, Tobacco: Packaging: Written Questio-218414, 16 December 2014, accessed January 2015
  30. N.S. Hopkinson, S. Agrawal, R. Sherrington, et al. Standardised (“plain”) packaging of cigarette regulations must be passed before the general election, British Medical Journal, 29 December 2014, accessed January 2015, doi:10.1136/bmj.g7751
  31. abUK Government, Government backs standardised packaging of tobacco, January 21 2015, accessed January 2015
  32. F. Perraudin, MPs pass legislation to introduce standardised cigarette packaging, The Guardian, 11 March 2015, accessed June 2015
  33. Action on Smoking and Health, Major victory for public health: MPs vote to introduce standardised cigarette packs on 20th May 2016, 11 March 2015, accessed June 2015
  34. A. Alemanno, A. Garde, Legal opinion on the Compatibility of the UK proposals to introduce standardised packaging on tobacco products with the EU Tobacco Products Directive, Legal opinion Commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health, 9 March 2015, accessed March 2015
  35. P. Evans, Philip Morris, British American Tobacco Challenges U.K. Cigarette-Packaging Order, The Wall Street Journal, 22 May 2015, accessed 29 May 2015
  36. T. Corbin, Anti-plain pack legal action grows as JTI files suit, Packaging News, 27 May 2015, accessed 29 May 2015
  37. A. Don, JTI to challenge tobacco plain packaging in the High Court The Grocer , 27 May 2015, accessed 29 May 2015
  38. abASH, Standardised Tobacco Packaging, May 2016, updated April 2017, accessed March 2021