A majority vote in favour of plain packaging – which will see every packet of cigarettes looking exactly the same except for the make and brand name – in the House of Commons has paved the way for the same move to be taken in Scotland, where the government said it would implement standardised packets if it was approved south of the Border.
The packages, which will show no branding or advertising and are to be a dark colour – likely olive green – will also boast graphic pictures accompanying health warnings. The move has been long opposed by the tobacco industry, which has claimed it would not affect smoking rates and could increase the illegal black market sale of cigarettes.
However, a review of a consulation carried out by Westminster in 2012 by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler last year found that it was very likely the change would lead to a small, but important, reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking lobby group ASH Scotland, welcomed the decision, which will see plain packets on shop shelves by 2016.
She said: “With 367 MPs in favour and only 113 against, the decision marks a momentous success for those who have campaigned for this vital public health measure, which will cut the number of young people lured into addiction by flashy cigarette packs.
“It also underlines the dramatic failure of the tobacco industry’s long and costly bid to derail the introduction of plain packs through a strategy of misinformation, including alarmist claims the move would increase the amount of counterfeit tobacco and damage trade in shops.”
The Irish Republic passed a similar law earlier this month, while Australia has had plain packaging in place since 2012.
In Scotland, tobacco kills more than 13,000 people a year, costing the NHS around £500 million. Scotland was the first country in the UK to commit to bringing in plain packaging and the first to implement the ban on smoking in public places in 2006.
MSP Maureen Watt, minister for public health, said: “I am delighted that, following calls from the Scottish Government, standardised tobacco packaging has been approved by MPs today. We strongly support this measure, which we believe will greatly decrease the appeal of tobacco products, particularly to young people.
“We want to create a tobacco-free generation in Scotland by 2034, and this is one of several measures that will help to turn that into a reality. We need bold steps if we are to bring about the complete culture change we need.” The decision is still awaiting final approval from the House of Lords.
Simon Clark, spokesman for smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “Consumers are fed up being patronised by politicians of all parties. Smokers know there are health risks associated with tobacco. What next? Standardised packaging for alcohol and sugary drinks?”