THE Scottish Government “will not back away” from introducing plain packaging for tobacco, Scotland’s public health minister has vowed.
Michael Matheson said a consultation on the proposal would be launched within a matter of months, stressing “evidence is clear” that plain packaging prevented young people from taking up smoking.
The SNP pledge comes two months after UK ministers announced they were shelving plans to introduce the scheme in England until similar measures in Australia could be properly evaluated.
However, Mr Matheson said he would look to consult on the issue in the “coming months”, with plans to introduce legislation in 2014-15.
He said: “Unlike the UK government, we will not back away from this important measure to help protect our young people from becoming the smokers of tomorrow. We will consult on the next steps in the coming months, after which we will look to introduce legislation in 2014-15.”
Jeremy Hunt, his counterpart at Westminster, revealed in July that the UK government had decided to postpone a decision on standardised packaging in light of “differing views”.
That decision prompted Labour accusations that the Prime Minister had been influenced by Lynton Crosby, a political adviser whose consultancy represents tobacco giants.
But Mr Matheson is convinced the legislation – a key action in the Scottish Government’s tobacco control strategy – will have a positive impact.
“Introducing plain packaging will make an important contribution to our efforts to reduce smoking prevalence and achieve our target of a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034,” he explained.
“The evidence is clear, plain packaging is an effective way to prevent the uptake of smoking among young people, which is key to achieving our vision.”
Australia was the first country to introduce plain packaging in December, and Mr Matheson said initial findings showed the scheme was having a positive effect.
He added: “I am very encouraged by the early findings coming out of Australia.
“These add to, and support, the wealth of existing evidence, which consistently shows that plain packaging would reduce the appeal of tobacco products to consumers; would increase the effectiveness of health warnings; and would reduce the ability of packaging to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking.”
A paper by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), commissioned by the tobacco giant Philip Morris, warned that hundreds of local shops would close and more than 3,000 jobs would be lost if the Scottish Government pressed ahead with the plain-packaging plans, describing the repercussions as “traumatic for the high street”.
But Sheila Duffy, chief executive of Ash Scotland, said: “Scotland is again providing leadership on a world stage, as we did with smoke-free legislation. Internationally, Scotland’s announcement has been widely welcomed as an inspiration to other countries considering similar legislation.”
Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, said: “Scotland deserves tremendous praise… the implementation of plain and standardised packaging will once more be an example for governments worldwide.”