UK to mimic Australia’s plain cigarette packets

Displays like these could be a thing of the past as plain packaging for cigarettes is set to be unveiled in the UK. Picture: PA
Displays like these could be a thing of the past as plain packaging for cigarettes is set to be unveiled in the UK. Picture: PA
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PLAIN packaging for cigarettes is to be brought in by the UK government, public health minister Jane Ellison has announced - and the move will come into force in Scotland too.

The controversial message already adopted in Australia will see mean that tobacco products are sold in standardised packaging with image of the ill effects of tobacco on people’s health.

While legislation on the sale of tobacco is devolved to Scotland the move means that plain packs will also be brought in north of the Border.

The SNP Scottish Government has always supported plain packaging but pushed for a UK-wide solution.

It means the regulations being laid down in Westminster will be accepted in holyrood through a technical device known as a Sewel motion.

There had been speculation that the Scottish Government would press ahead next month if the UK government dragged its feet on the issue until the election.

The UK government last year passed enabling legislation in the Children and Families Bill which would allow ministers to introduce the measure in England and Wales and then able the Scottish Government to follow suit.

However, a second consultation reviewing the evidence in Australia is still being carried out by the Department for Health despite Public Health Review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler supporting the proposal and a detailed consultation taking place in 2012.

Opponents have claimed that David Cameron has been persuaded not to press ahead with plain packs because of links between the tobacco industry and his adviser Lynton Crosby, although this has been denied by the Prime Minister.

But in a debate on the issue called by Glasgow North Labour MP Anne McKechin, the health minister confirmed that the government will proceed with the health move.

Opponents of plain packaging point to a rise in illegal and smuggled cigarettes in Australia and threats by Indonesia, a key new market for whisky, to put alcohol into plain packs as a retaliation.

Ms Ellison told MPs: “We cannot be complacent. We all know the damage smoking does to health.

“This government is completely committed to protecting children from the harm that tobacco causes.

“That’s why I’m announcing that we will be bringing forward legislation for standardised packaging before the end of this Parliament.

“I would like to reassure the House I will provide further details about the introduction of this policy in due course.”

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Reacting to the news, Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said: “I welcome the government’s backing for this policy.

“I have reviewed all the evidence, and agree that standardised packaging would be a positive move for public health, particularly the role it could play in helping to prevent the uptake of smoking by children.

“We have seen smoking rates decline, but smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable mortality.

“We need to keep up our efforts on tobacco control and standardised packaging is an important part of that.”

John Lee, communications director at the Scottish Grocers Federation (SGF), warned: “This will hit small retailers hardest but it seems to be a symbolic gesture which will not tackle the three real problems of smoking which are the illicit trade, health inequalities in that smoking is more prevelant in more deprived areas, and young people smoking.”

However, Sheila Duffy, chief executive of Ash Scotland said: “Tobacco packaging is like perfume it is designed to draw people in and sell the product so this is an important move in stopping young people from taking up smoking.”

The need for a UK-wide approach was underlined by the need to get permission from other EU member states because of single market regulations.

And the proposal could be bogged down in EU red tape.

So far, an unprecedented number of EU member states including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain have registered detailed concerns about the proposal which means it could take many months before plain packaging is confirmed.

A spokesman for tobacco giant JTI said: “No doubt the major crime syndicates across the globe are scrutinising these proposed regulations as the UK government prepares to provide counterfeiters with a blueprint of exactly how to copy UK tobacco brands in the future.

“It is inexplicable that the government is allowing the forthcoming election to act as a finish line for this important issue when it was opposed by nearly two thirds of the respondents to the last public consultation.”