An anti-smoking group in the North East has welcomed the Government’s decision to review tobacco packaging.
Cigarettes could be sold in plain packaging by 2015 after ministers moved to revive the policy.
The idea of banning branding was controversially shelved in July, with the Government insisting it had not bowed to tobacco industry lobbying and saying it wanted to see how it worked in Australia.
But yesterday health minister Jane Ellison said that paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler has been asked to carry out a review of the evidence, which will be completed by March.
Shadow health minister Luciana Berger was quick to accuse the coalition of performing a U-turn by reviving the policy after it appeared to be shelved.
Ailsa Rutter, director of the North East campaign group Fresh, said: “No parent wants their child to smoke whether they smoke or not, and the colourful tobacco packs on our shelves are specifically designed to appeal to young people. The evidence is already there. We are delighted that the Government has listened and taken notice.
“After the packs hit shelves in Australia a year ago, the Quitline saw a spike in calls and smokers reported that they found cigarettes from plain packs less appealing or satisfying.
“Even tobacco industry research shows smoking prevalence fell and awareness of health warnings increased dramatically.
“Most smokers start as children. While nothing is done, nearly 9,000 North East children will start smoking each year and tobacco multinationals will be able to attract young people to an addictive, lethal product. Cigarettes should not be gift wrapped as fun products like sweets or chocolate.”
Last year, more than 13,500 people and 129 organisations in the North East - including every local authority - voiced their support of standardised packs during the Department of Health consultation.
Ms Ellison said tobacco use, particularly among children, remains one of the most significant public health challenges, with more than 300,000 under-16s trying smoking for the first time every year.
At the same time as the review, changes will be made to the Children and Families Bill currently going through Parliament so the ban can be implemented quickly if recommended.
Ms Ellison said: “It’s a year this weekend since the legislation was introduced in Australia. It’s the right time to ask people to look at this.
“This is fundamentally about children’s health. Two-thirds of people start smoking when they’re children and it’s one of the most important public health issues we face in this country.
“Asking an independent body to take a look and survey the evidence for us is a sensible next step. We are going to take the opportunity to put regulations in place which will enable us to act quickly.”
Despite reductions in smoking, the North East still has higher than average rates of young people smoking. The average age that North East smokers started is just 15, with some starting as young as nine years old.
Standardised packs were introduced in Australia last December. Evidence shows they would make tobacco packs less attractive and end the deception that some cigarettes are less harmful than others.
The latest opinion poll shows standardised packaging is supported by 63% of adults, with just 3% strongly opposing.