Government backs plain tobacco packaging

The government has announced that it backs the public health case for introducing standardised packaging of tobacco, with MPs set to vote on the issue before the general election. If passed by parliament, regulations could be in force by May 2016.

The proposed regulations would standardise the packaging of all cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco for retail sale, including mandatory colours of ‘dull brown’ for outer packaging and white for the inside, with brand and variant name the only permitted text apart from health warnings and marks to tackle illicit trade. The decision was reached after ‘carefully considering the evidence’ and other relevant information, says the government.

Plain packaging was introduced in Australia in 2012, while previous plans to introduce the legislation here were dropped from the 2013 Queen’s Speech at the same time as proposals for minimum unit pricing (DDN, May 2013, page 4).

‘Having considered all the evidence, the secretary of state and I believe that the policy is a proportionate and justified response to the considerable public health harm from smoking tobacco,’ said public health minister Jane Ellison. ‘I now propose that we lay regulations for standardised packaging in this parliament to allow for them to come into force at the same time as the European tobacco products directive in May 2016. In doing so we would be bringing the prospect of our first smoke-free generation one step closer.’

The European tobacco products directive will also include a ban on flavourings, including menthol.

The move has been welcomed by health bodies, including Cancer Research UK. ‘By stripping cigarette packs of their marketing features, we can reduce the number of young people lured into an addiction, the products of which are death and disease,’ said the charity’s chief executive Harpal Kumar, while the Faculty of Public Health called it ‘fantastic news for our children’s health as well as common sense’.