SCOTLAND is to press ahead with legislation to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes – despite the UK government shelving its own plans.
Earlier this year the Scottish Government said it supported plain packs as a way of deterring young smokers, but would await Westminster’s verdict before deciding on “the most appropriate legislative option”.
But following yesterday’s announcement that the UK coalition would not immediately pursue this, the SNP administration said it would now introduce its own law anyway.
The commitment was welcomed by health campaigners dismayed at the Westminster decision. But others questioned how Scotland might fare with legislation in isolation.
UK health minister Anna Soubry said that, following public consultation, the UK decision on plain packaging had been delayed so similar measures introduced at the end of last year in Australia could be monitored.
The Scottish Government’s tobacco strategy in March backed plain packaging and other measures in a bid to make Scotland smoking-free by 2034.
Yesterday, Scottish public health minister Michael Matheson said: “It is disappointing the UK government has decided not to take action. The Scottish Government remains committed to introducing standardised packaging. We will now identify an appropriate timescale to introduce legislation.”
Fierce debate has surrounded the proposals to ban all attractive packaging and logos from tobacco products and replace them with standard designs along with health warnings.
Health campaigners argue it will deprive tobacco companies of their last method to promote their products and prevent young people being attracted to smoking by glossy packaging.
However, industry groups have questioned research suggesting plain packets would reduce the number of child smokers and claimed it could play into the hands of counterfeiters.
Action on Smoking and Health Scotland welcomed the moves to introduce Scottish legislation on plain packaging.
Chief executive Sheila Duffy said: “Given that around 40 young people take up smoking every day in Scotland, it is essential that this legislation is made a priority and introduced at the earliest opportunity.”
Dr Charles Saunders, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association Scotland, added: “Doctors see first-hand the devastating effects of tobacco addiction. We support moves to reduce the number of people taking up this deadly habit.
“Packaging is a key marketing tool and can influence young people to start smoking so it is vital that this final source of advertising is removed.”
Smokers’ lobby group Forest welcomed the Westminster climbdown, but questioned the Scottish Government’s stance.
Director Simon Clark said: “There must be a huge question- mark over Scotland going it alone on plain packaging. I can’t imagine how it could possibly work in isolation from the rest of the United Kingdom.”
The Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) said it was disappointed the Scottish Government was to press ahead. But it said the Westminster delay, plus a recent vote in a European Parliament committee against plain packaging, represented a blow to restrictive legislative proposals.
Chief executive John Drummond said: “There is a clear momentum at UK and European level to abandon this ineffective policy. We can now begin to tackle the real issues such as the illicit counterfeit trade, which costs every honest retailer up to £30,000 in lost sales each year.”