Anti-smoking campaigners in the North East have welcomed indications from the Government that they are “minded” to introduce plain packs for cigarettes.
The Department of Health is to launch a consultation on whether tobacco products should be sold in standardised packaging after a review concluded the initiative could contribute to a “modest but important reduction” in smoking rates.
The Sir Cyril Chantler review concluded that the measure, which would see cigarettes and other tobacco products put in drab and purposefully unattractive packaging, would contribute to a reduction in the prevalence of smoking. He also suggested that branded packs contribute to an increase in tobacco consumption.
Last night Fresh North East, the regional anti-smoking campaign, said: “The Government are now in a position to do something fantastic and reduce the appeal of glamorous cigarette packs.”
Health experts have long campaigned for the measure to be introduced, saying that brightly coloured packages are the last marketing ploy tobacco companies use to lure people to their products.
But smoking groups claimed that stripping cigarette packets of branding would lead to an increase in the illicit trade of tobacco products and job losses. Public health minister Jane Ellison said: “Smoking kills nearly 80,000 people each year in England alone and our cancer outcomes stubbornly lag behind much of Europe.
“Quite apart from the enormous pressure this creates on the NHS, it is a cruel waste of human potential.
“Yet we know that the vast majority of smokers want to quit and even more tragically we also know that two-thirds of smokers become addicted before they are 18.
“As a nation therefore we should consider every effective measure we can to stop children taking up smoking in the first place.
“I would like to thank Sir Cyril and his team for their work and for their thorough analysis of the evidence on standardised packaging.”
Sir Cyril said he was “not convinced” by arguments that standardised packaging would lead to an increase in illicit trade.
He said UK enforcement agencies have already shown they can keep illegal products to low levels.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers group Forest, said: “It makes sense for the Government to take its time and consult further but it seems perverse to commit to a policy before those discussions have taken place.
“If further consultation is to have any meaning the Government must keep an open mind. The final decision on standardised packaging must be based on hard evidence that it stops children smoking.”