Tobacco plain packs – a protection against the “Silent Salesman”

This morning I was pleased to help launch Europe’s first major campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of glitzy tobacco packaging to children.  The Coalition Government will shortly launch its consultation exercise on whether to follow the example of Australia and introduce the plain packaging of cigarettes.

The roof top events space of Bristol’s new M-Shed Museum was the setting for a one day conference of public health professionals from across England.  I pointed out to delegates that downstairs in the Bristol at Work gallery was the only place where you could now find a cigarette vending machine, donated by lmperial Tobacco.  These machines, which provided easy access to cigarettes, could be found in almost every pub in England until last October.  Since last October they’ve been consigned to history.

The next step on the way to comprehensive tobacco control will come in April with the ban on the open display of cigarettes at tobacco kiosks in supermarkets.  So when you’re buying your Easter eggs, lottery tickets or just visiting customer services you will not be able to see the rows of branded tobacco products.

But once the pack of fags has been bought people will still be exposed to the subtle marketing techniques of the cigarette companies.  Tobacco plain packs will offer protection against the antics of the “Silent Salesmen” of Imperial, Phillip Morris and the other multi-nationals who own the still all too familiar brands.   Over the last decade in Britain and around the world all the other marketing and advertising avenues have been blocked – the design of the cigarette packet is the only tool left to the companies to push their brands and together recruit a new generation of young smokers.

The primary aim of the campaign to introduce plain packs of cigarettes will be to protect children and young people from the subtle marketing techniques of the brand owners.  They’ve become adept at designing packs that might appeal to teenage girls, for instance boxes in the shape of lipstick tubes.  Boys may be tempted by the sliding compartments of boxes that look like smart phones or I-Pods.  Names like “vogue” or “sobranie cocktail” where the cigarettes as well as the packs are given an upmarket look might appeal to those who fall for products that are “reassuringly expensive”, to borrow a phrase from another branded product.

Plain packs would be the same size, same colour, same font for the product name and nothing else other than the health warning.   The Silent Salesman would not just be mute, he’d look very dull and lonely.

Those of us who support plain packs being introduced in Britain do so in order to prevent the cigarette companies from recruiting new addicts.  Hardly anyone takes up smoking as an adult.  Most of the new customers for the industry are teens.  As one expert put it this morning, “smoking is a paediatric epidemic driven by the marketing of the tobacco industry.”

I’m proud that Smoke Free South West is spearheading this awareness raising campaign and that it was launched in my constituency.  You can find out more by looking at  and signing up for updates. The campaign is being supported by a wide coalition of health bodies, including Cancer Research UK , the British Heart Foundation and the Royal College of Physicians.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, which I chair, will building support in Parliament for the campaign.  Further impediments to the antics of big tobacco’s army of silent salesmen will help stop another generation of people becoming trapped into the addiction of this most terrible product.

Note – people in this topic might also want to read and

UPDATE 13 March 2012 – I have written to the Govt to ensure that review of “red tape” regulation does not compromise tobacco control

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