Cigarette packet branding to face consultation
The government is considering plans to strip all branding from cigarette packs sold in England in a bid to make smoking appear less attractive.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told the Times the government did not work with tobacco companies as it wanted them to have "no business" in the UK.
He said 5% of 11 to 15-year-olds were regular smokers and the habit led to nearly 100,000 deaths in the UK yearly.
The government is to launch its consultation on the issue on Monday.Vending machine ban
In a statement, Mr Lansley said: "Smoking remains one of the most significant challenges to public health.
"Each year it accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK and one in two long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking disease.
"That is why the health ministers across the UK have a responsibility to look closely at initiatives that might encourage smokers to quit and stop young people taking up smoking in the first place.
"Through the forthcoming consultation we want to hear as many views as possible about whether tobacco packing should remain unchanged, plain packaging should be adopted or a different option should be considered."
A ban on tobacco displays in large shops started earlier this month, and smaller shops will have to follow suit by 2015.
The move comes after bans on vending machine sales, increasing the age at which a person can legally buy cigarettes and the ban on smoking in public places.'Attractive' packaging
Australia is currently the only country which has so far agreed to plain packaging.
Its ban starts at the end of this year, although it is subject to a legal challenge by manufacturers.
End Quote Jane Chisholm-Caunt Tobacco Manufacturers Association
There is no reliable evidence plain packaging will reduce rates of youth smoking”
Packets will be a dark olive green, after the public was asked what the least attractive colour was.
Research published in Australia has suggested that cigarette packets have increasingly become an important marketing tool as restrictions on advertising and sponsorship have been brought in.
Mr Lansley told the Times he was open-minded, but that he believed attractive packaging helped recruit smokers from a young age.
More than 300,000 children aged under 16 in England try smoking each year, according to government figures.
The consultation will also examine if plain packaging could lead to a rise in cigarette packets being sold on the black market.
Mr Lansley said the tobacco companies used certain colours to trigger memories and their brands constituted a type of advertising.
"We don't want to work in partnership with the tobacco companies because we are trying to arrive at a point where they have no business in this country," he added.Counterfeiting 'risk'
The consultation document is expected to suggest that branded tobacco packets create "smoker identity", with certain brands seen as "cool" and "popular", the paper reported.
It is also expected to say that tobacco firms use colours and logos to boost their profits.
The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association said it "welcomed" the consultation.
But Jane Chisholm-Caunt, secretary-general of the TMA, said: "There is no reliable evidence plain packaging will reduce rates of youth smoking.
"Smoking initiation in children is actually linked to a complex range of socio-economic factors including home life, peer pressure and truancy and exclusion from school."
And she warned plain packaging would only serve to make counterfeiting cigarettes easier.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest which runs the "Hands Off Our Packs" campaign, added: "The consultation on plain packaging threatens to be a farce.
"Andrew Lansley says he is open minded yet he clearly supports plain packaging even before the consultation has begun."
Smoking rates have fallen significantly since the link with cancer was established beyond doubt in the 1950s.
But it recent years the decline has slowed with the number of adult smokers hovering above the 21% for some time.
Ministers have promised to reduce this to 18.5% by 2015.