ALL parts of the UK are set to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products in efforts to meet an ambitious target to dramatically cut rates of smoking.
This follows an announcement by the UK government that it is moving forward with plans to ban branding on cigarette packs after an independent report found it was “very likely to have a positive impact” on public health and stop children from starting to smoke.
Scotland already has plans to introduce plain packaging, while Northern Ireland has indicated it will follow suit. Yesterday’s announcement means the UK is set to be the first country in Europe to take this step.
The Scottish Government now wants to adopt the regulations being introduced at Westminster following the major review which found banning branded packs could cut smoking.
Yesterday, Scotland’s public health minister, Michael Matheson, warned if the UK ministers “weaken”, the SNP government will go it alone with separate legislation at Holyrood to introduce the measure north of the Border.
The Sir Cyril Chantler review, published yesterday, concluded selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in plain and purposefully unattractive packaging would cut down smoking rates.
The UK Department of Health is shortly to launch a short consultation on the issue with MPs expected to get a vote on it later this year.
Mr Matheson said: “I have been consistently clear there is strong evidence to support the positive impact plain packaging would have on public health.
“Sir Cyril’s report confirms that, and it is also important to note he has not found any convincing evidence that standardised packaging would increase the trade in counterfeit cigarettes.
“I am pleased the Department of Health will now publish draft regulations. However, it has taken some time to arrive at this point, and I am keen that we move forward without further delay.
“I will therefore ensure that Scotland continues to have a strong voice as we work with the Department of Health and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales to finalise details of those regulations.
“I also remain clear that if the UK position weakens we will bring forward our own legislation for the consideration of the Scottish Parliament.”
Health experts have long campaigned for the measure to be introduced, though smoking groups claim stripping packets of branding would lead to an increase in the illicit trade of tobacco products and job losses.
Asked whether the Prime Minister intends to get legislation on to the statute book by the time of the May 2015 General Election, David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “We will certainly consider whether that is possible. The Prime Minister is minded to go ahead with this, subject to the consultation on detailed regulations.”