02 May 2013

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has joined the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Australian counterparts, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, to call on the government to push ahead with plans for standardised packaging of tobacco products.

Writing in a letter sent to The Independent, the three royal college presidents said:

Dear Sir

As doctors we believe that standardised tobacco packaging should be introduced internationally to reduce smoking uptake amongst children and young people. Tobacco packaging is designed to make tobacco products attractive, to distract the attention of smokers and potential smokers from health warnings, to reduce the perceived harm of the product, and build brand identity and loyalty.

In December 2012, Australia became the first country to legislate for plain packaging of cigarettes with no brand identification and graphic health warnings and images.  Plain packaging was a challenging, two year battle for the Australian Federal government and the health industry. The implementation of plain packaging identifies Australia as a nation leading the way in progressive public health schemes.

Evidence shows that plain packaging is less attractive to young people. Health warnings are prominent and effective and remove any misconception that some brands are ‘safer’ than others.  As a result, plain packaging of cigarettes is likely to reduce smoking uptake amongst children and young people. The Australian government’s brave and ground breaking initiative should be echoed around the world, as children and young adults everywhere deserve the same protection.

In the UK, two thirds of regular smokers started smoking before the age of 18; two fifths started before the age of 16. Approximately half will manage to stop smoking during their lifetime. Following consultation, the Department of Health is due to decide on whether to introduce legislation for standardised packs. We urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to join Australia in this important measure to protect children from starting to smoke.

Yours faithfully

Sir Richard Thompson
President, Royal College of Physicians

Dr Hilary Cass
President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Dr Leslie E. Bolitho AM
President, Royal Australasian College of Physicians

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