Tobacco Appeal Would Be Reduced By Standarized Packaging Interview with:
Dr Jenny L Hatchard
University of Bath and UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Hatchard: Our study found that global tobacco companies’ claims that standardised packaging ‘won’t work’ should be viewed sceptically.

The aim of standardised packaging, with no logos, brand imagery, symbols, or promotional text, is to restrict the already limited opportunities that tobacco companies have to market their products, and deter people from starting smoking. It was introduced in Australia in 2012 and the UK Government is currently considering following suit.

We analysed the evidence cited by four global tobacco companies in their lengthy responses (1521 pages in total) to a recent UK Government consultation on standardised packaging for cigarettes.
Of 77 pieces of evidence cited to argue that standardised packaging ‘won’t work’, only 17 addressed the impact of standard packs on smoking. None of the 17 were published in a peer-reviewed journal and 14 of the 17 (82 per cent) were either commissioned by or linked to the tobacco industry. This link was not clearly stated in some companies’ consultation submissions.

Prior to the government’s consultation, an independent systematic review concluded there was ‘strong evidence’ that standardised packaging would reduce the appeal of tobacco products and increase the impact of health warnings.

In our study we compared the quality of this tobacco industry evidence with that of the evidence included in the systematic review.  We found that the both quality of the systematic review evidence supporting standardised packaging is significantly greater than the quality of the industry evidence opposing it.

We concluded that, with few exceptions, evidence cited by global tobacco companies to promote their claim that standardised packaging ‘won’t work’ lacks either policy relevance or key indicators of quality. 

The contrast between the quality and relevance of tobacco industry evidence versus the evidence in the systematic review was clear.  This underlines the need for health policymakers to be alert to the provenance of evidence cited by corporate actors who oppose regulation which aims to benefit public health. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Hatchard: The volume of evidence cited by tobacco companies was not unexpected as existing research has demonstrated the importance the industry places on packaging as a means of marketing their products.

Similarly, unfortunately, the absence of independent, peer-reviewed and relevant evidence to support industry claims that standardised packaging ‘won’t work’ reflects the large body of literature which has documented the global tobacco industry’s practice of manufacturing evidence in the past. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Hatchard: Evidence plays a central role in policymaking, not just in the UK, but globally.  At the same time, transnational corporations have the capacity to swamp public consultations by citing large volumes of evidence and can delay the policy process.  It is vitally important for policymakers to critically appraise evidence cited by corporate interests opposed to public health legislation – analysis of subject matter, independence and peer-review status offers a straightforward method for achieving this. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Hatchard: In the future we hope to complement this study by examining the role of evidence in the health policy process from policymakers’ perspectives.  This would enable the development of a transparent understanding of how policymakers view evidence cited by corporate interests opposed to regulation of their products, how they judge its credibility and how they use it to inform health policy.


Hatchard et al. A critical evaluation of the volume, relevance and quality of evidence submitted by the tobacco industry to oppose standardised packaging of tobacco products Online First doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-00375

Last Updated on February 13, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD