She recently told the Commons “No studies have been undertaken to show that plain packaging of tobacco would cut smoking uptake among young people or enable those who want to quit to do so.”

So, the clause on plain packaging added while the bill was in the House of Lords may fail. And, according to Ms Armstrong, the tobacco industry is not quaking with fear about a wave of plain packaging legislation.

But anti smoking activists think otherwise.

“The tobacco companies themselves are screaming,” says Ms Freeman. “They are putting their ducks in a row to combat it.”

And indeed, the agenda for the upcoming tobacco trade show Tab Info Asia 2009, seems to suggest there is concern in the industry.

One workshop is described as “John Luik challenges you, working in teams, to come up with ingenious ways of operating in an increasingly regulated, plain pack, dark market environment”.

And tobacco firms have responded in ingenious ways in the past to restrictions. When firms in the UK were no longer allowed positive messages in adverts, they turned it to their advantage. The slashed purple silk of Silk Cut and the oddly placed gold packets of Benson & Hedges are two of the best known advertising campaigns ever.

Viral marketing

Iain Ellwood, head of consulting at Interbrand, say further restrictions like plain packs could even play into the hands of the tobacco firms.

“The current trend is for word of mouth campaigning, social media and viral marketing.

“There is a potential short term blip in debranding the packs. Having these bland, basic packs might be soon as cool.”

Of course, the firms may fear maintaining separate brand identities will be hard to maintain in the long term.

“If you lose all of that they can’t navigate your offer quite as well so less likely to buy,” says Mr Ellwood.

The drive to plain packaging is part of the “denormalisation” of smoking, says Simon Clark of smoking rights pressure group Forest.

“It is a form of commercial censorship. No other product comes in plain white packaging. For some people it will make smoking slightly illicit. It will make smoking cool again.”

Here is a selection of your comments.

It just goes to show there is no limit to the steps that a small group of obsessives will take to persecute smokers. I’m fully expecting to be called soon to apply for my smokers licence, cigarette ration book and ‘smoker’ tattoo to be applied to my forehead. Listen carefully I know the risks, life is a risk, we all die one day. Get over it, and move on.

Road traffic deaths are a major cause of early death in the UK so lets make all cars painted white with pictures of car crashes on. Have adverts for them banned and all information about fuel consumption and safety censored. Fatty foods are a major cause of early death in the UK lets make burger bars sell their burgers in white boxes with gory pictures of clogged arteries on. Have adverts for them banned and demand they are hidden from shop display and censor any information about calories and fat.
Bob Smith, Reading, UK

As a smoker I can assure you that I was not so feeble minded as to be lured into smoking by pretty packaging, nicotine is the addiction and it was considered cool to smoke (all the adverts said so) when I began. If the government is so concerned about public health why not go all out and impose a total prohibition throughout the British Isles? This of course could never and would never be contemplated by the government because the revenue lost in taxes would be tremendous.
Teresa Hewitson, Ashington, Northumberland

I’m not a smoker, I quit several years ago, but frankly this war on smoke is getting a little out of hand. firstly the smoking of tobacco products is perfectly legal in this country. Therefore it is completely unjustifiable to attempt to tell someone where and when they can do it. This would impact on the civil liberties of the aforementioned smoker. Vices (of all legal natures) are a huge source of income for the UK government, and I feel they are trying to have it both ways, they want the tax revenue but they also want to be seen as progressive health aware thinkers. IT is my view that you cannot be both, either smoking is ok or it isn’t. The government has no right to dictate the things we can legally do in this country.
Mike, Worcester

I do not think this is a good idea, if all cigarettes came in identical packaging it wouldn’t make me stop smoking. I also think that taking brand loyalty out of the equation will cause a price war between the tobacco companies. I would no longer go and ask for a specific brand but for the cheapest. This would cause the price of cigarettes to plummet and young people would by them because they are so cheap. Sorry ASH i think your shooting yourself in the foot here!
Dave, Glasgow, Scotland

I am a smoker however I welcome the day where there is an outright ban on tobacco products in the UK. It is high time that the government banned tobacco in all forms because unlike alcohol there is no safe limit in terms of consumption I have myself health related issues caused by smoking.
John Baetke, Guildford

Tar black with the word “CANCER” in big black letters front and rear will do it. Can’t we have a campaign where we all squirt vile perfume over smokers. Why should they have the monopoly of stinking the place out and making us stink too?
MadMole, London

Maybe it would help if cigarettes and tobacco were sold only in chemists / pharmacies, where health professionals were on hand to offer advice and guidance for those who wanted to reduce or quit their habit? This would also help reduce the chances for underage smokers to purchase them.
Jai Gomer, Wales, UK

As a founding member of Lesmahagow & Area Community First Responders, I can argue the case against the smoking world. We are a group of volunteers who are trained (just like paramedics) to respond to 999 medical emergencies, where in so many cases smoking is the root cause of our public’s issues.

Eradicating the advertising of tobacco will reduce these calls out full stop, and help improve the health of our small village, giving us, the Community First Responders, more time to spend with our loved ones, instead of attending these “smoking related” call outs. I believe taking branding off cigarettes and cigars will help towards this target, but, as a smoker myself, I will not change my own habits.
Kevin Avis, Lesmahagow

The most iconic cigarette branding was the black and gold of the JPSs (as used on the packets and on the Lotus F1 cars), followed closely by the red and white of Marlboro (as used on the old McLaren F1 cars). Even now, 30 years later, they’re instantly recognisable, so it must be the case that cigarette branding has an impact. However, as a non smoker, I’m not sure that reducing packaging to all white will reduce smoking it’ll just mean that people buy the cheapest brand, sparking off a price war.
Bryn Roberts, Richmond, Yorkshire, UK

Perhaps all cars could be “unbranded” as well. I do not know of ANY car that does not pollute on a much larger basis than a cigarette or 20. Banning smoking found a… saving of lives. Banning vehicle pollution may save a lot more. Those who rant on the anti smoking campaign should also set the agenda by giving up their car.
Kelly, Durham UK

“One unintended consequence would be a rise in smuggling and potentially harmful counterfeit cigarettes in the market, says Catherine Armstrong, of British American Tobacco.”

As opposed to the perfectly harmless cigarettes currently on the market!
Tony Bell, Warrington, UK

Great news. I wont get jeered at for smoking the cheapest cigarettes I can found now. As long as the brand name is printed on the pack, bring it on.
Steve N, Birmingham, UK

I’m sixteen years old and I smoke. Personally, the packaging
of a certain brand of cigarettes would not deter me from buying them. I don’t like brands such as Lambert and Butler or JSP as I don’t like the taste. I smoke Marlborough lights because I enjoy the taste. Maybe for others it is a case of looking good with a certain brand of cigarettes in their hands, but I do not think that it would have an impact as much as hoped.
Megan, York

Anyone else remember those almost plain black and almost plain white packs called Death and Death Light? They were great and for the short time they were available I reckon they must have been one of the most successful brands on the market. This is exactly what’ll happen with this half baked idea. Pete, London

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