POST B: Plain Packaging – Has This Been A Successful Design Initiative For Tobacco Control?

Growing up in Australia today, the harsh consequences of smoking are regularly advertised. This is completely different to how my parents grew up in the 1970s, a time where the diseases linked to smoking were only just being discovered by scientists and doctors. Studies show that still only a few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use. For example, a 2009 survey conducted by the World Health Organisation in China revealed that “only 38% of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 27% knew that it causes stroke”. (World Health Organisation 2017.)

As part of an initiative to “make Australia the healthiest country by the year 2020”, (Cancer Council Victoria 2011) and knowing the cigarette pack has become an important means of communicating the risks of smoking, the Australian Government decided to fund a project to introduce what is known as plain packaging. From December 1 2012 all tobacco products were legally required to be in plain packaging, making Australia the first country in the world to introduce this top-down design led initiative. (The Department of Health 2017.) This initiative requires all tobacco products in Australia to be standardised and sold in uniform plain green boxes, typefaces and “contain graphic images of diseased smokers”. (White, V. Williams, T. & Wakefield, M. 2015.) It requires the removal of all branding such as colours, imagery, logos and trademarks. (2015.)

Cigarettes in Australia are sold in identical green packets bearing the same typeface and largely covered with graphic health warnings. (Photo: Hutton, J. 2017.)
I was a young teenager when plain packaging was first implemented in Australia. It surely put me off smoking for good as I never wanted to even try it. (Photo: Hutton, J. 2017.)

These were all done in support of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Regulations Act 2011. (Federal Register of Legislation 2016.) Its objectives were to “improve public health by discouraging people from using tobacco products or starting, increase the number of smokers who quit and reduce exposure to tobacco smoke.” (The Department of Health 2017.)  Increasing the effectiveness of health warnings helps to reduce the ability that previous “glamorised” (2017) retail packaging had on consumers. I believe these improvements in how tobacco products are promoted through packaging are essential to reducing the unacceptable level of death and disability caused by smoking in Australia. This is because people are more likely to understand the side effects through confronting imagery as oppose to text.

Cigarette packaging in Australia was “glamorised” (The Department of Health 2017) in the 1970s, where people were not warned of the diseases smoking would later cause them. (Photo: Sludge, G. 1970.)

Two years after the Act was introduced in 2012, the Australian Government commenced a “Post-Implementation Review” (2017) of tobacco plain packaging to “assess its effectiveness.” (2017.) The results concluded the Act is having a positive impact because in results released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there was a general decrease in the smoking rate, dropping from 15.1% in 2012 to 12.8% in 2014. (2017.) Cancer Council researcher Professor Melanie Wakefield also commented “about 20% of people who smoke made attempts to quit over the course of a month…after plain packaging, that went up to nearly 27% of people who made quit attempts”. (Wakefield, M. 2017.) Furthermore, Doctor Tasneem Chipty, an expert in econometric analysis says from December 2012 to September 2015, “the 2012 packaging changes resulted in 108, 228 fewer smokers”. (Chipty, Dr T. 2017.) It is evident that plain packaging in Australia has been successful when it is compared to countries like Indonesia, where this incentive has not been introduced. While the number of smokers in Australia is decreasing, statistics show that the number of smokers in Indonesia rose over the last year, from 31.8% in 2015 to 34.1% in 2016. (Reddy, K.S. Yadav, A. Arora, M. 2017.)

Although plain packaging has shown positive results in Australia, it also highlights problems. The World Trade Organisation granted Indonesia the right to challenge Australia’s plain packaging laws in 2014. (Moore, S. 2014.) Indonesia’s Trade Ministry director Bachrul Chairi believes Australia “breaches international trade rules and the intellectual property rights of brands.” (Chairi, B. 2014.) Chairi further comments that it removes an available avenue of brand advertising for cigarette companies. (2014.) Since Indonesia is the “sixth biggest tobacco exporter and provides jobs to more than six million people”, (Moore, S. 2014) there is an incentive to promote the tobacco industry. The final ruling is yet to be made.

Indonesian workers hand roll cigarettes at a factory in Surabaya. If there was a decline of smoking in Indonesia, this would result in job loss for these people. (Photo: Chairi, B. 2014.)

On a universal level, the UK has followed Australia in the plain packaging laws as of May 2016, (Bourke, L. 2016) citing the decline in Australia’s smoking rate as proof that it works. In the future, Ireland, France and New Zealand are among several countries committed to following Australia and the UK in introducing plain packaging. (2016.) Consequently, with other countries coming on board, I strongly believe that plain packaging will continue to globally succeed in battling the tobacco epidemic as its graphic imagery showing the diseases smoking causes provides a much more powerful message than words on the old packaging ever will. We just need to convince Indonesia to follow this trend.


Reference List:

Bourke, L. 2016, ‘Australia Made It Easier for UK to Introduce Plain Packaging Says Kevin Rudd’, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 13 December 2017, <;

Cancer Council Victoria. 2011, ‘Plain Packaging of Tobacco Products: A Review of the Evidence’, Cancer Control Policy, Position Statements, vol. 1, no. 1, pp 13-16, viewed 10 December 2017.

Chairi, B. 2014, ‘Indonesia Challenges Australia’s Plain Cigarette Packaging Law At WTO’, Jakarta Globe, viewed 12 December 2017, <;

Chipty, Dr T. 2017, Evaluation of Tobacco Plain Packaging in Australia, Australian Government, viewed 11 December 2017, <;

Federal Register of Legislation. 2016, Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, Australian Government, viewed 11 December 2017, <;

Hutton, J. 2017, ‘Smoking: Australia’s Packing Up, Why Can’t China, Indonesia?’, This Week In Asia, viewed 13 December 2017, <;

Moore, S. 2014, ‘Indonesia To Challenge Australia’s Plain Packaging Tobacco Laws at World Trade Organisation’, ABC News, viewed 12 December 2017, <;

Reddy, K.S. Yadav, A. Arora, M. 2017, ‘Indonesia: Integrating Tobacco Control Into Health and Development Agendas’, Tobacco Control, vol. 21, no. 1, pp 24-26, viewed 11 December 2017.

Sludge, G. 1970, ‘The VIrtual Tobacconist – Flip-top UK Cigarette Packets – Brands, c 1970’, Flickr, viewed 11 December 2017, <;

The Department of Health. 2017, Introduction of Tobacco Plain Packaging in Australia, Australian Government, viewed 11 December 2017, <;

Wakefield, M. 2017, Smoking and Tobacco Control, Cancer Council Australia, viewed 11 December 2017, <;

White, V. Williams, T. & Wakefield, M. 2015, ‘Has the Introduction of Plain Packaging with Larger Graphic Health Warnings Changed Adolescents Perceptions of Cigarette Packs and Brands?’, Tobacco Control, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 06-11, viewed 11 December 2017.

World Health Organisation. 2017, ‘WHO Report On The Global Tobacco Epidemic: Monitoring Tobacco Use and Prevention Policies’, Bloomberg Philanthropies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 19-25, viewed 10 December 2017.

3 thoughts on “POST B: Plain Packaging – Has This Been A Successful Design Initiative For Tobacco Control?

  1. What a really interesting read! I never knew thay Australia is the first country to introduce those plain packaging packs! I also believe plain packaging is an effective method as it discourages you to use it. Meanwhile not only glamorising their products through packaging, they also tend to advertise to encourage young adults to smoke rather than discourage them. Such a huge contrast with Australia dont you think?! Keep up the good work!

  2. This is a really interesting view point as you cover both negative and positive implications of the change in legality of tobacco advertising in Australia. The article ‘Effectiveness of Pictorial Health Warning Labels for Indonesia’s Cigarette Packages’ by Dien Anshari (University of South Carolina, 2017) outlines in detail the effectiveness of the introduction to health risk imagery in Indonesia, although after our trip we have discovered that it isn’t a dominant visual aspect of the packet itself. Maybe you could explore this reading as a contrast and compare it to what we’ve learnt during our time in Banjarmasin?

  3. Drawing on cigarette packaging, rules, and general knowledge from your parents’ generation is interesting; The introduction of similar laws in Indonesia today could effectively generate the same response, and as media is becoming more and more accessible and younger generations are becoming less likely to smoke, compounding media restrictions could be used to great effect.

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