Health

MPs expected to back cigarette plain packaging

Department of Health images of how standardised packaging may look Image copyright Department of Health
Image caption How the standardised packets may look

MPs are expected to approve the introduction of standardised packaging for cigarettes in the UK later.

If passed, it will mean from 2016 every packet will look the same except for the make and brand name, with graphic photos accompanying health warnings.

The Irish Republic passed a similar law earlier this month and Australia has had plain packaging in place since 2012.

Westminster's move follows a series of public consultations on the issue.

The government announced in 2011 it would be considering the issue and ran a consultation in 2012.

But then it appeared the government had gone cool on the plan, prompting accusations it had been influenced by the tobacco industry, before another review of the public health benefits was ordered.

That review was carried out by by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler and concluded last year it was very likely the change would lead to a modest but important reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking.

More than 600 children aged 11 to 15 start to smoke every day - more than 200,000 a year. The review said if that number could be cut even by 2%, 4,000 fewer would take up the habit.

Research has shown standardised packaging makes the packets less appealing and helps reinforce health messages.

Meanwhile, darker colours - olive green is proposed - are favoured ahead of white, as this is perceived to signify more harm.

Health campaigners have long been pushing for the move, saying it will help save lives.

Alison Cox, of Cancer Research UK, said there was a "growing weight of evidence" that it would have an impact.

But the Tobacco Manufacturer's Association has argued there is a "complete lack of evidence that the policy will work".

While most MPs are expected to back the move, there have been concerns raised about how the process is being handled.

Powers for standardising packaging were in the Children and Families Act 2014, but the Commons must approve bringing them into force.

The regulations were discussed and agreed by a committee earlier this week and will now be subject to a free vote.

But as it is not primary legislation, there will be no further debate.

Conservative MP Nick De Bois said: "I certainly would never have expected to see this measure before this House this late in the parliament, announced in an adjournment debate without the benefit of a full debate."

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