TPD: Pictorial Warnings and Standardised, Plain Packaging

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This page was based on a Smokefree Partnership Briefing on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive published in 2011. (This was updated in 2015) 1

Plain Packaging has become a widely-used term used within the smoking and health debate. However, it is more accurate to use the term Standarised Packaging. Plain packaging suggests a white- or olive-coloured box with just the name of the cigarettes on it, in plain letters. But at a Smokefree Network meeting in Brussels in October 2011, Florence Berteletti-Kemp, Director of Smokefree Partnership, emphasised that the element of graphic pictorial warnings are an essential part of the plan.

Pictorial Warnings

Tobacco warning labels in the European Union (EU) are governed by the provisions of the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).2

Black and white text warnings have been mandatory since 2002 but the use of pictorial warnings voluntary, as set out under Article 5.3 of the Directive.23

In 2003, a Commission Decision4 was adopted in order to provide detailed rules for Member States choosing to use pictorial warnings from the EU Library on cigarette packs. Pictorial warnings must be:

  • combined with text warnings
  • rotated on a regular basis
  • printed on the back of the package
  • surrounded by a black border
  • and cover at least 40% of the surface of the packet.5

In 2011, there were seven EU countries requiring pictorial warnings. Belgium was the first country to implement the option in 2006, followed by Romania and the United Kingdom (UK) in 2008, Latvia in 2010, and Malta, France and Spain in 2011. In the wider EURO region, Switzerland (2008), Turkey (2010) and Norway (2011) have adopted pictorial warnings based on the Commission’s 42 image-library, and Ukraine was due to follow suit in September 2012. Worldwide, at least 39 jurisdictions required pictorial warnings.

(By 2015 these figures warnings were required in ten EU countries, and 50 jurisdictions worldwide.)1

Standardised, Plain Packaging

According to the Smokefree Partnership, the review of the 2001 TPD constituted a major opportunity to introduce mandatory pictorial warnings combined with standardised packaging in the EU. In its Guidelines for the implementation of Article 11 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the World Health Organization recognises that plain packaging:

“may increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages, prevent the package from distracting attention from them, and address industry package design techniques that may suggest that some products are less harmful than others.”6

In November 2009, a Council Recommendation on smoke-free environments7 was adopted, which invites Member States to adopt mandatory pictorial warnings (under Art. 5.3 TPD and the Commission Decision on Pictorial Warnings), but also called on the European Commission to “analyse the legal issues and the evidence base for the impact of plain (or, standardised) packaging”.

This Recommendation follows the adoption of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)8 in particular Paragraph 46 of the Guidelines for Implementation of Article 11,which states that:

“parties should consider adopting measures to restrict or prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand.”6

Australia was to be the first country in the world to implement standardised packaging combined with pictorial health warnings in December 2012. In April 2012, the UK government published a public consultation on standardised packaging to help determine the potential impact of such a measure.  France, Belgium and Norway expressed an interest in standardised packaging. Canada was to pass a law allowing for pictorial warnings to be extended to cover 75% of the front and back of packaging, and the US would introduce pictorials for the first time, covering 50% of the front and back of packaging.

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  1. abSmoke Free Partnership, Briefing on the Revision of the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive, 14 December 2015
  2. abDirective 2001/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2001 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products – Commission statement, accessed February 2012
  3. Note: Article 5.3 of the TPD states: “The Commission shall…adopt rules for the use of colour photographs or other illustrations to depict and explain health consequences of smoking, with a view to ensuring that internal market provisions are not undermined. Where Member States require additional warnings in the form of colour photographs or other illustrations, these shall be in accordance with the above-mentioned rules”
  4. Official Journal of the European Union, Commission Decision of 5 September 2003 on the use of colour photographs or other illustrations as health warnings on tobacco packages, 2003/641/EC, 10 Sep 2003, accessed October 2011
  5. Note: This proportion shall be increased to 45% for Member States with two official languages and 50% for those with three. For tobacco products other than cigarettes, the most visible surface of which exceeds 75cm2, the combined warning must cover an area of at least 22.5cm2
  6. abWHO, Guidelines for Implementation of Article 11 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, November 2008, accessed October 2011
  7., Council Recommendation on smoke-free environments, 30 November 2009 (COM 2009/328), accessed October 2011
  8. WHO, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2003, accessed October 2011