Why is plain packaging necessary?
Tobacco is responsible for more than one in four deaths from cancer, but around 157,000 children started smoking in 2010. This is half as many 11 to 15-year-olds as did in the 1990s before the ban on advertising so we’ve done a lot. But when young people are still taking up smoking – and few smokers start as adults – we can’t be complacent. Studies are clear that plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products to teenagers and can help reduce smoking rates – and the deaths and disease tobacco causes.
Why aren’t the graphic images and warnings enough?
Graphic warnings are effective, but they don't really address the way that different brands can become a part of young people’s identity – a badge for the kind of person they want to be, or the image they aspire to. Some brands are rugged and macho while others are very slim and feminine. We have to get rid of this.
How do you respond to people who say this could be an infringement of intellectual property rights?
When the tobacco industry is threatened by a policy, it usually says that it's illegal and that it increases tobacco smuggling. Neither is true. They have just lost legal cases on tobacco displays and vending machines, and independent legal commentators believe they will lose them on plain packs. Fundamentally, Parliament has the right to legislate to protect public health. And rightly so.
Why do you think the state has a role to play in this?
Parents who encourage their children not to start smoking do a massive amount. Alongside this, government action is necessary and effective to stop tobacco products being promoted and to help people quit smoking.
What would be the next step if plain packaging went through?
The evidence for the effectiveness of mass media campaigns in motivating people to quit is strong. I understand the public-spending environment, but we'd like to see the 'stop smoking' ads return to previous levels.
Would you like to see smoking made illegal?
Tobacco is not a normal consumer product; it kills one in two of its long-term users. However, with one in five adults being smokers in the UK and tobacco being highly addictive, banning smoking would likely just repeat the experience of the prohibition of alcohol in the USA. So no, we aren't calling for smoking to be made illegal.
Would you advocate, as some have in Australia, making cigarettes foul-tasting?
We don't agree with making cigarettes foul-tasting, but at the same time it's wrong that there are additives and flavourings that make them more palatable to young smokers. One of the reasons for our progress is that we have taken smokers along with us: a majority of smokers back smoke-free laws, and our campaign for plain packaging brings together smokers and non-smokers alike to protect the next generation.
Is there any chance that plain packaging will make counterfeit cigarettes less easy to spot?
The existing packs are already so easy to forge that they have covert markings to enable enforcement officials to distinguish illicit cigarettes. With these markings and large pictorial warnings, packs won't be easier to forge.
Cancer Research UK: Dr Harpal Kumar interview
by Caroline Crampton / 24 Apr 2012
Caroline Crampton interviews Dr Harpal Kumar, CEO of Cancer Research UK, about cigarette marketing
Why is plain packaging necessary?