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In the guide
A guide to the law on the packaging, tracking and tracing of tobacco products and the distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
There are Regulations in place that are designed to reduce the appeal of tobacco products (particularly to young people), to prevent misleading claims about the benefits of tobacco products and to make the required health warnings more noticeable. The overall aim is to reduce rates of smoking.
In order to address the problem of illegal trade in tobacco products, there are Regulations that require systems of traceability and security features to be implemented.
The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 deal with the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products, including herbal products for smoking, e-cigarettes and refill containers as well as smokeless and novel tobacco products.
Note: in English and Welsh law, the term 'nicotine inhaling products' is used to describe e-cigarettes and associated products, and in Scottish law they are known as 'nicotine vapour products'; the generic term 'e-cigarettes' is used in this guide.
The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 standardise the packaging of certain tobacco products by requiring the removal of all promotional features. The brand name and variant name, number of cigarettes, weight of the hand-rolling tobacco product, producer details, barcode and calibration mark are permitted but must be in a standardised format and the UK duty-paid mark must be displayed. The packaging must be a specific shape and in a certain colour; all other colours, trademarks, logos and promotional graphics are prohibited.
This guide will help you to understand your obligations to ensure that all tobacco and related products that you offer for supply or sale in the UK comply with both sets of regulations. There are some general rules that apply to all tobacco products, which you will find at the beginning of the guide. For ease of reference, the other key requirements of these regulations have been combined in a way that clearly identifies how they apply to each type of product.
The Tobacco Products (Traceability and Security Features) Regulations 2019 deal with traceability and security features systems for tobacco products. Details can be found in the 'Track and trace' section towards the end of this guide.
It may be useful for you to refer to the illustration below.
Note: in the example, unique identifiers are not shown.
General labelling requirements
GENERAL CONDITIONS FOR ALL HEALTH WARNINGS
Warnings on tobacco products make users aware of the health risks associated with smoking. There are rules that apply to all health warnings on tobacco products:
A health warning must not:
GENERAL RULES ABOUT THE PRESENTATION OF ALL TOBACCO PRODUCTS
These are rules that prohibit the packaging of tobacco products from misleading consumers.
No one may produce or supply a tobacco product where the package labelling or the product itself contains the following elements or features (including texts, symbols, names, trade marks, figurative signs and other types of sign):
Labelling requirements by product
TOBACCO PRODUCTS FOR SMOKING
(does not include large cigars, individually wrapped cigars or cigarillos)
Combined health warnings:
General warnings and information messages:
LARGE CIGARS AND INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED CIGARS AND CIGARILLOS
The Regulations only apply to a unit pack or container pack that contains a single cigar or cigarillo, or two or more cigars each with a unit weight of more than three grams.
A unit pack and any container pack must carry the general health warning 'Smoking kills - quit now' and one of the text warnings that is listed in Annex I to EU Directive 2014/40/EU on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products (see the link in 'Key legislation' below).
There are rules that cover the rotational use of text warnings by producers.
The format for the general health warning includes a requirement that it must appear on the most visible surface of the pack and cover 30% of that area.
The text warning must appear on the next most visible surface (or if the pack has a hinged lid, the surface that appears when the pack is opened) and cover 40% of that area.
SMOKELESS TOBACCO PRODUCTS
This means a tobacco product that is consumed in a way that does not involve a combustion process. It includes chewing tobacco and nasal tobacco.
HERBAL PRODUCTS FOR SMOKING
A herbal product for smoking is defined as "a product based on plants, herbs or fruits which contains no tobacco and that can be consumed via a combustion process". The Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 do not apply to herbal products for smoking but the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 contain requirements as set out below.
A unit pack and any container pack of a herbal product for smoking must not state that it is free of additives or flavourings. Nor must it include any element or feature (including texts, symbols, names, trade marks, figurative signs or other types of sign) that:
Standardised packaging requirements
Cigarette packs, individual cigarette sticks and hand-rolling tobacco packs must be produced and supplied in standardised packaging, which means they have to meet requirements laid down in the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015.
A unit packet of cigarettes must contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes.
Individual cigarette sticks:
A unit packet of hand-rolling tobacco must contain at least 30 g of tobacco.
The packaging of cigarette packs, individual cigarette sticks or hand-rolling tobacco must not make a noise, nor contain or produce a smell that is not normally associated with the product. In addition, packaging must not change after retail sale; this means that features such as heat activated inks, inks that appear fluorescent in certain light and removable tabs are not allowed.
The brand name and variant name, number of cigarettes, weight of the hand-rolling tobacco product, producer details, barcode, and calibration mark are permitted on the packaging but must be in a standardised format and the UK duty-paid mark must be displayed.
Take note that whilst large cigars, individually wrapped cigars and cigarillos must carry health warnings, the standardised packaging requirements do not apply to cigars and cigarillos, nor are there any restrictions on the number of these products in a unit packet.
IMAGES OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS AIMED AT CONSUMERS
Be aware that if you publish an image of a unit or container pack of a tobacco product (when it is lawful to do so according to tobacco advertising rules), the pack must comply with all the labelling and packaging requirements set out in both the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 and the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.
NO VITAMINS, COLOURINGS OR PROHIBITED ADDITIVES IN TOBACCO PRODUCTS
No one may produce or supply a tobacco product containing:
NO FLAVOURED CIGARETTES OR HAND-ROLLING TOBACCO
Cigarette packs, individual cigarette sticks or hand-rolling tobacco - including any filter, paper, package or capsule component of the product - must not be produced or supplied with a characterising flavour. A filter, paper or capsule must not contain tobacco or nicotine; technical features that would modify the smell, taste or smoke intensity of a product are not allowed. From 20 May 2020, this ban also applies to menthol cigarettes.
CROSS-BORDER DISTANCE SALES OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS AND E-CIGARETTES
If a retailer wants to sell tobacco products and e-cigarettes to consumers elsewhere in the European Economic Area (EEA) they must register their intention with the UK Government. As part of this registration, a retailer must operate an age verification system that confirms that before or at the time of sale the consumer's age is not lower than the minimum age in the EU country where the consumer is located.
If a retailer outside the UK wants to sell tobacco products and e-cigarettes to consumers within the UK they must register their intention with the UK Government.
The European Commission will make available a list of all countries that have banned such sales and details of the registration schemes in operation in other countries.
The Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 set out rules covering e-cigarettes. No one must produce or supply an e-cigarette or refill container unless they meet the following requirements:
Nicotine-containing liquid must:
In normal use the e-cigarette must deliver a consistent dose of nicotine.
An e-cigarette or refill container must be child-resistant and tamper-evident, protect against breakage and leakage and have a mechanism to ensure that refilling can take place without leakage (this does not apply to disposable e-cigarettes).
INFORMATION AND LABELLING
No one may produce or supply an e-cigarette or refill container unless they meet the requirements set out below:
An e-cigarette or refill container must meet the following requirements before it is produced or supplied. The unit packet and any container pack may not include any element or feature (including text, symbols, names, trademarks, figurative or other types of sign) which:
E-cigarettes and refill containers cannot be advertised or promoted, directly or indirectly:
The following activities are also prohibited:
The rules on advertising do not prevent you from supplying information about e-cigarettes and refill containers as long as it is supplied at the request of a consumer and given in a non-promotional manner.
The requirements of the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 do not apply to e-cigarettes or refill containers.
NOTIFICATION OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS AND HERBAL PRODUCTS FOR SMOKING
All producers of tobacco products and herbal products for smoking must provide Public Health England (PHE) with certain product information before they can supply them; this includes ingredients and emissions information, market research and sales data. Producers must also notify of the withdrawal of a product from the market.
Retailers should ensure, before they purchase tobacco products, that they have been properly notified and not subsequently been withdrawn; this particularly applies to products like shisha, blunts and chewing tobacco. Retailers can do this by checking the list of notified tobacco or herbal products for smoking published on the GOV.UK website (withdrawn products do not appear on the list of notified products; there is no separate list of withdrawn products) or perhaps by obtaining written assurances from their suppliers. Products that have not been notified or have been withdrawn cannot be supplied and may be seized by trading standards.
NOTIFICATION OF NICOTINE-CONTAINING E-CIGARETTES AND REFILL CONTAINERS
All producers of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and refill containers must submit information about their products to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA). This includes ingredients and emissions information, toxicology data, information on the nicotine dose and uptake when used normally and a description of the components of the product. Producers must also notify of the withdrawal of a product from the market.
Retailers should ensure, before they purchase these products, that they have been properly notified and not subsequently withdrawn. They can do this by checking the list of submitted e-cigarette products on the GOV.UK website or, if they cannot find them on the list, they should ask their supplier to confirm they comply with the requirements of the regulations and have been notified to MHRA. Products that have not been notified or have been withdrawn cannot be supplied and may be seized by trading standards.
Track and trace
Under the Tobacco Products (Traceability and Security Features) Regulations 2019, unit packets of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco that have been manufactured in or imported into the UK must:
The sell-through period when existing stocks of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco that were manufactured or imported into the EU before 20 May 2019 has now ended.
The rules will apply to all tobacco products from 20 May 2024.
Traders that manufacture, import, store, transload (move from one vehicle to another) and sell tobacco products must register with an ID issuer for business and product IDs.
Offences and defences
TOBACCO AND RELATED PRODUCTS REGULATIONS 2016
A person is guilty of an offence if they breach a provision of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.
There is a general defence available to suppliers of tobacco or other related products that they exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence. The same defence is available to anyone who has committed an offence related to advertising and sponsorship. There are further defences available to anyone who has committed offences relating to e-cigarette advertising: that they did not know and had no reason to suspect that the advertisement was an e-cigarette advertisement or that the newspaper, periodical or magazine contained an e-cigarette advertisement.
STANDARDISED PACKAGING OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS REGULATIONS 2015
A person who produces or supplies a tobacco product in breach of the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015 is guilty of an offence. It is a defence if the person neither knew nor had reasonable grounds for suspecting that the tobacco product was supplied in breach of the 2015 Regulations.
Detailed guidance on the packaging of tobacco products and guidance on the distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes has been produced by the Department of Health and Social Care.
HM Revenue and Customs has produced guidance on tobacco product traceability.
Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement and penalties'.
Under the Tobacco Products (Traceability and Security Features) Regulations 2019, HM Revenue and Customs officers can issue a notice requiring compliance where requirements of the Regulations have not been met and non-compliant products can be seized and may be liable to forfeiture.
Last reviewed / updated: May 2020
In this update
Menthol cigarettes are now banned, and the sell-through period of old-style packaging has ended
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.