The Department of Health (DoH) has finally published the summary report into its plain packaging consultation which closed on 7 August 2014.
The overwhelming number of responses received were against plain packaging - with 123,269 of the total 137,711 responses having come from smoker’s rights group Forest, which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign.
The Tobacco Retailers Alliance also elicited 10,001 anti plain packaging responses via its No to Plain Packs postcard campaign while the UNITE union sent in 2,290 postcards which highlighted the risk that plain packaging would pose to UK jobs.
A comparatively small number of other responses came from local authorities, health charities and local tobacco control alliances.
Responses were very clearly polarised – particularly with regard to the Chanter Review on plain packaging which was carried out by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler for the DoH last spring.
Local authorities, public health departments and health and social care professionals generally welcomed the findings, while many others stated that it did not provide sufficient evidence upon which to introduce legislation. It was also argued that the review was not independent - relying on expert opinions from tobacco-control advocates or those with conflicts of interest.
Evidence from Australia, which introduced plain packaging in 2012, was equally divisive.
The illicit trade also emerged as a key theme with many respondents, including tobacco manufacturers and retailers, highlighting concerns that standardised packaging could increase the supply of, or demand for, illicit tobacco.
Plain packaging opponents also stressed the specific negative impacts on retailers including longer transaction times, dissatisfied customers, increased staff costs and increased risk of injury from attack or theft.
A number of studies on transaction times were referenced, which had conflicting results. Those who were opposed to plain packaging quoted studies which showed an increase in transaction times, while those who supported it quoted studies which showed an overall decrease in transaction times following implementation of the policy in Australia.
Retailers also highlighted the potential impact on their profit margins should plain packaging prompt adult smokers to down trade to products with lower margins.
MPs are expected to vote on plain packaging in the next few weeks.