MPs back standardised cigarette 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 have voted in favour of introducing standardised packaging for cigarettes in the UK.

It means from 2016 every packet will look the same except for the make and brand name, with graphic photos accompanying health warnings if the House of Lords also approves the move.

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

Health campaigners said they were "delighted" with the move.

Some 367 MPs voted in favour of standardised packaging with 113 against it in a free vote.

Long battle

It comes after a long battle to get to this point. The government announced in 2011 it would be considering standardised packaging and ran a consultation in 2012.

But ministers then appeared to go 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.

Darker colours - olive green is proposed - are favoured ahead of white, as they are perceived to signify more harm.

British Lung Foundation chief executive Dr Penny Woods said she was "delighted" with the result.

"We now look to the House of Lords to give this legislation the final parliamentary stamp of approval. The moment tobacco companies are finally denied the right to use glitzy packaging to recruit new smokers will be a moment of celebration for those who care about public health."

Meanwhile, the campaign group, Action on Smoking and Health, called it the "most important public health reform of this Parliament".

A history of smoking legislation in the UK

Image copyright Thinkstock
  • 1965: Government bans cigarette advertising on television
  • 1971: Ministers announce health warnings to be carried on all cigarette packets
  • 1984: Smoking banned on London underground trains
  • 2002: Legislation passed banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • 2005: Smoking banned on all trains
  • 2006: A ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, comes into effect in Scotland
  • 2007: England, Wales and Northern Ireland introduce their own bans on smoking in public places
  • 2008: Picture health warnings introduced on cigarette packets
  • 2012: Large shops are banned from displaying cigarettes. Smaller shops to follow suit in 2015
  • 2015: MPs vote in favour of banning smoking in cars where children are present

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

Simon Clark, of the smokers lobby group Forest, said: "Consumers are fed up being patronised by politicians of all parties. Smokers know there are health risks associated with tobacco. Plain packaging won't make any difference.

"What next? Standardised packaging for alcohol and sugary drinks?"

Paper ballot

While the vote in favour had been widely expected, concerns were raised about how the process had been handled.

Powers for standardising packaging were in the Children and Families Act 2014 and were agreed by a committee earlier this week.

But as it is not primary legislation, there was no need for a debate and so the vote was done via a paper ballot.

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."

While the vote was on the introduction of the regulations in England, the other parts of the UK had already committed to introducing standardised packaging if MPs passed it.

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