Plain packaging is failing in the UK on the first anniversary after its controversial introduction, finds a study by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA).

Reducing smoking levels was a key objective behind the introduction of plain packaging in May 2017 but this is not supported by independent evidence with recent statistics showing an upturn in smoking levels, said TMA.

Fake plain packaged cigarettes have been found across the UK whilst new polling shows that plain packaging is encouraging millions of smokers to buy from the black market, it added.

The Smoking Toolkit Study has found that on a three month rolling average, from December 2017 to March 2018, smoking rates in England were higher than for the same time last year before plain packaging was fully introduced.

Month Smoking rate % Month Smoking rate % Y/Y Change
Dec-16 17.0 Dec-17 17.4 +0.4
Jan-17 16.7 Jan-18 17.1 +0.4
Feb-17 16.1 Feb-18 17.9 +1.8
Mar-17 16.5 Mar-18 17.1 +0.6


The TMA estimates that if the same effect was seen across the UK, there would be approximately 350,000 more adult smokers in March 2018 than a year before plain packaging was fully introduced.

This reflects international evidence that plain packaging doesn’t deter smoking. It has also been judged to be failing in the two other countries where it has been introduced, Australia and France.

French Health Minister, Agnes Buzyn, recently admitted that “plain packaging did not contribute to the decrease of official tobacco sales.”

New TMA polling conducted over the last two months has also found that smokers are being pushed towards the illicit market by plain packaging. Over a quarter of UK smokers say that the measure has made them more likely to buy untaxed tobacco, the equivalent to 1.9 million people across the UK.

“The recent evidence shows that plain packaging appears to be failing in the UK like everywhere it has been introduced. It appears not to be delivering the health outcomes it was claimed it would bring while at the same time is proving to be a boon to the black market by encouraging smokers to buy from illicit sources,” said Giles Roca, Director General of the TMA.

“The Government should recognise that plain packaging is failing and undertake a full and immediate review of this policy,” Roca asked in the statement.