Factory-made cigarettes (FMC) and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco have had to be produced in standardised packaging since 20th May 2016 in the United Kingdom, with a minimum pack size of 20 sticks for FMC and 30 grams for RYO. Manufacturers and retailers were given a 12-month transition period.
An observational study was conducted using monthly Electronic Point of Sale data from 500 small retailers in England, Scotland, and Wales, between May 2016 and May 2017. The 20 top selling tobacco products (15 FMC, 5 RYO) were monitored to observe when standardised packs were first introduced, the proportion of retailers selling each fully branded and standardised product, and the average number of monitored fully branded and standardised products sold by each retailer. The number of unique tobacco-related product codes sold by each retailer was also recorded each month.
Eighteen of the fully branded products continued to be sold throughout the transition period and no standardised variants were sold in the first five months. It was not until month eleven that the average number of standardised products sold by retailers exceeded the fully branded products. The average number of unique tobacco-related product codes sold by each retailer decreased by a third over the transition period.
Tobacco companies used the transition period to delay the removal of fully branded products and gradually introduce standardised variants. This staggered introduction may have mitigated some of the immediate intended effects of the legislation by desensitising consumers to new pack designs.
Evaluation research from countries which have introduced standardised packaging for tobacco products is key to help inform future implementation. This is the first study to monitor the transition from fully branded to standardised products using real-time retail data. The findings demonstrate that tobacco companies delayed the introduction of standardised products and removal of fully branded packaging. Countries seeking to introduce standardised packaging should consider what length of transition is allowed, as the protracted 12 month period in the UK appeared longer than needed to transition stockholding and may have mitigated immediate intended effects by desensitising consumers to new pack designs.