Federal health minister Maggie De Block has announced the date for the change to neutral packaging for cigarettes and rolling tobacco. The measure will come into force on 1 January 2020. The adoption of neutral packaging for tobacco products was announced earlier, but no starting date was given. The change affects cigarettes, rolling tobacco and tobacco for use in water-pipes, as well as cigarette papers and filters.
From 1 January, all such products will be sold in greenish-brown packaging, with no sign of the familiar branding. The only remnant of today’s appearance will be the warning message and a suitably unpleasant photo warning of the dangers of smoking for health.
Belgium thus becomes the fifth European country to introduce neutral packaging, after France, Norway, the UK and Ireland. Australia was the first in the world to make the change, in 2012. The change is intended to make cigarettes and smoking less attractive. “In countries where neutral packaging has been introduced, the number of smokers has dropped significantly,” De Block said. She declined to say what the government’s target for reducing smoking is.
Manufacturers will have to comply with the new rules from 1 January. However retailers, in particular independents, will have until the end of 2020 to use up old stocks with the previous form of packaging. In practice, a spokesperson for the federal health ministry said, the transition ought to take much less time than that. In the meantime, inspectors will be on the road from January checking to see that manufacturers are meeting their obligations.
“Neutral packaging is an important measure in the fight against tobacco,” according to Stefaan Hendrickx of the Alliance for a Smoke-Free Society. “Manufacturers use their packaging to give their cigarettes a hip and glamorous image. That will soon be over.”