Plain cigarette packs back on UK political agenda

UK government says review to ask whether move can benefit particularly children’s health

A cigarette display cabinet in a central London newsagent’s shop. Photograph: PA

A cigarette display cabinet in a central London newsagent’s shop. Photograph: PA

 

Britain announced an independent review of tobacco packaging today and said it was ready to introduce new laws banning branding on cigarette packets if the report found sufficient evidence to support it.

The government, which in July delayed a decision on the issue, said the review was due to report back in March 2014 and would look into whether standardised packaging is likely to have an effect on public health, particularly in relation to children.

The long-standing debate on the issue pits health campaigners, who back the move, against big tobacco firms which say it would put jobs at risk and encourage smuggling.

In Britain, the subject has also prompted criticism from the opposition Labour party over the extent to which the tobacco industry is able to influence government policy.

The news has hit stocks of British tobacco firms. British American Tobacco shares were down 0.9 per cent at 3243.5 pence at 10am today, while smaller rival Imperial Tobacco Group’s shares were down 2.5 per cent at 2304 pence.

Shadow public health minister Luciana Berger urged the Government to act now, rather than await the results of its review.

She said: “We need immediate legislation for standard cigarette packaging, not another review. The Government needs to stand up to the tobacco industry’s vested interests.

“The evidence to support standardised packaging is clear. The consensus is overwhelming. We don’t need any further delay while 570 children are lighting up for the first time every day.”

Health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) has hailed the expected announcement.

Chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “This decision is a victory for public health, for common sense and for future generations who will as a result be protected from glitzy, colourful and misleading tobacco packaging.

“The Government should be given due credit for being willing to listen to parliament and to the experts and change its mind.

“We understand the need for a review of the evidence and we are pleased that this will be carried out with the necessary speed to ensure that it reports early in the spring. This Sunday is the anniversary of standardised packaging being put in place in Australia, and the positive impact it has made is becoming clearer every day.”

After a lengthy public consultation, British prime minister David Cameron in July delayed a move to force manufacturers to sell tobacco in plain packets, saying he wanted to see more evidence from other countries on the effectiveness of such a move.

Almost exactly a year ago, Australia passed a law saying cigarettes must be sold in dark brown packets with no colours or logos, with the name of the product printed in a standardised small font.

Reuters/Press Association