PLANS to strip cigarette packets of branding has been welcomed by health campaigners in the North East.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has paved the way for the Government to force tobacco firms to provide all cigarettes in plain packets in a bid to cut smoking.
The coalition’s public consultation on plain packaging was launched yesterday and the news has been hailed as a positive move by anti-smoking groups.
However, a bitter dispute over the Government’s proposals has been growing as opponents claim it would lead to increased smuggling and job losses.
Andy Lloyd, from North East anti-smoking office Fresh, said: “This is another vital measure to take in our journey to help make smoking history for children.
“Smoking is an addiction that starts in childhood and it is not surprising when you see the number of colourful, attractive tobacco products being offered on the shelves – with packaging to look like make up and MP3 players.
“Evidence shows that young people are more likely to be attracted to glitzy, colourful tobacco packaging. Smoking still remains our biggest killer in the North East, with 11 deaths a day from smoking-related disease.
“The tobacco industry is already fighting against plain packaging and pedalling a number of myths, including that it will fuel illicit tobacco, because they know that the introduction of standardised packs will turn off the tap to a whole generation of young smokers, who will become addicted.”
Such a ban would be the latest attack on smoking.
Previous governments banned tobacco companies describing certain brands of cigarettes as “lights”, outlawed sponsorship deals and forced firms to publish on packets graphic images of cancerous organs and warnings about the potential health effects of smoking. Dr Chris Stenton, consultant respiratory physician at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, said: “Glamorous packaging is used by tobacco companies to make smoking appear grown-up, sexy and exciting. It lures children into addiction and a lifetime of health problems. It robs them of 10 years of their life.
“Standardised packaging for cigarettes is an important step in presenting the reality of cigarette smoking.”
The packaging proposals have been attacked by a broad coalition of pro-smoking groups, cigarette manufacturers, small shop owners and some MPs.
Mark Littlewood, director-general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “It is remarkable that, during a period of economic upheaval across Europe and the world, the coalition is willing to waste time engaging in this patronising consultation, which will not result in any tangible benefits to public health.
“Those who will benefit the most from plain packaging will be organised crime networks who already control a substantial proportion of tobacco sales and whose lives will be made considerably easier should this policy be pursued.”