New step in the fight against smoking: packs of a “repellent” color

Those who enter a tobacco shop will see colored packs of cigarettes with well-known logos behind the counter. But starting today, thats gonna change. All new packs of cigarettes get the same dark green-brown color. Retailers are allowed to sell the old parcels for another year.

Also, smoking at stations is now completely forbidden. The smoke columns on platforms have been removed. The last smoke pile has been brought to the Railway Museum in Utrecht.

These are the next steps in the fight that Secretary of State Paul Blokhuis is fighting against an unhealthy lifestyle, better known as the National Prevention Agreement. Earlier this year cigarettes had to be placed out of sight in supermarkets, and since August school squares have been non-smoking.

Previously, warnings and repellent pictures of the effects of smoking appeared on cigarette packs.


The new color is not just chosen. Research showed that people with this shade have the most negative association. The color should scare off smokers to buy cigarettes. The aim is to reduce the number of smokers and thus also the number of cases of lung cancer, with 22 percent the most common type of cancer in the Netherlands.

In addition to the uniform colour, the new packaging also almost no longer shows which brand the smoke product is. So you cant see the famous logos of camels or cowboys anymore. Tobacco manufacturers have used those years because people have positive associations with them, says Emeritus Professor Carel Jansen. This has been an image built up for decades, which manufacturers can no longer use.

The Dutch Cigarette and Kerf Tobacco Manufacturers (VNSK) are not happy about that. What you do with this is to further restrict the competition between them. We expect smaller manufacturers in particular to suffer from this, says Jan Hein Sträter on behalf of VNSK.


This also brings change to employees of tobacco shops. It becomes difficult to find the right packages when they all look alike. It will take time, says an employee of a Primera in Groningen. A lot of hassle while smokers still smoke.

The apparently unmarked packages are not the only visible measures. In most tobacco shops there have recently been large silver-coloured cabinets. As of 2021, all parcels must be behind closed doors. Small specialty shops that derive the vast majority of their income from the sale of cigarettes are excluded.

With me, these cabinets are fine, but if you have a small business, it is difficult, says an employee of a tobacco shop in Deventer. She thinks the measure is unnecessary. Every time that door open and shut, awkward. Plus smokers will come anyway, so its nonsense to put them out of sight.

It is difficult to estimate how much effect the color change will have. Jansen previously conducted research into the effect of introducing packets with platelets of tumors or other effects of smoking. We are fairly certain that the appearance of parcels affects smokers. Plain packaging will help a bit again, because smokers and their surroundings can no longer get around the warnings. After all, nothing else can be seen on the packages anymore.

Australia is leading the way in this. We know from Australian research that the measures will certainly have an effect, says Jansen. But it is not clear what it is in; the pictures, the warning texts, the repulsive color or the increase in prices. Or that it is the combination of all these measures.

Also in Belgium, the unbranded dark green-brownish packages have recently been introduced. In France, all packages are white since 2016.

According to the tobacco manufacturers, the generic package does not yield anything. It is a typical example of symbolic politics. The consumer is not distracted by a colour. You saw that before with the repellent pictures.

Smokers in the Netherlands

The number of smokers in our country is steadily decreasing. In 2019, one in five adult Dutch people smoked, decipher the Trimbos Institute and the Central Bureau of Statistics. By comparison, in 2014, 25.7 percent of the adult population smoked, and last year it was 21.7 percent.

The proportion of young smokers has fallen. In 2010, 25.6 percent of young people aged between 16 and 20 smoked. In 2019, that share fell to 15.9 percent.

According to the objectives of the Prevention Agreement, the number of smokers should be reduced to 5% of the population by 2040.