Tobacco industry: Cigarette package law 'flawed'

media captionThis is what the government proposes cigarette packets will look like, as the BBC's Hugh Pym reports

Proposals to introduce standardised cigarette packaging in England are "flawed", the tobacco industry says.

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association said calls for plain packaging were based on "dogma", not evidence.

And UKIP leader Nigel Farage called the move an "appalling intrusion into consumer choice".

If approved by Parliament by May, a new law could be in force by 2016. Ministers and health groups say the change will save thousands of lives.

It follows a series of consultations on the issue.

Wales has already voted to accept any Westminster legislation on the matter. Scotland and Northern Ireland are also expected to vote on whether to back the move.

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told MPs on Wednesday that the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government's move was likely to have a positive impact on public health, particularly for children.

Labour has already pledged to ban images on packets if it wins power and doctors say the move would save thousands of lives.

BBC health editor Hugh Pym said the changes could come into force next year if Parliament passes legislation before the end of March, although, he said, a legal challenge by the tobacco industry was "highly likely".

In the House of Commons, Ms Ellison said all the evidence pointed to standardised packaging having a positive impact - although she warned of a potential legal challenge from the cigarette industry which strongly opposes the move.

"We cannot be complacent. We all know the damage smoking does to health," she said.

"This government is completely committed to protecting children from the harm that tobacco causes."

image copyrightPA
image captionAustralia banned all images and words, apart from public health warnings, from cigarette packs in 2012

A review of the public health implications of standardised packaging last year by Sir Cyril Chantler concluded it was very likely their introduction would lead to a modest but important reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking.

MPs are now expected to be given a free vote on the issue before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election campaign, which begins in April.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, welcomed the move.

"We need to keep up our efforts on tobacco control and standardised packaging is an important part of that," she said.

The British Lung Foundation and other health campaigners said plain packaging would reduce the appeal of cigarettes to young people.

image copyrightGetty Images

Analysis, BBC News Sydney correspondent John Donnison

In Australia over the past two years there has been a fierce statistical battle between the tobacco industry and anti-smoking groups over whether plain packaging works.

Aussie smokers have been picking up their cigarettes in bland brown packs, plastered with pictures of black tar-stained lungs, yellow rotting teeth and pink bulging tumours since December 2012.

Since then the number-crunchers on either side of the debate have been putting out research to claim that it has either been a success or a failure.

The tobacco industry generally says plain packaging hasn't reduced smoking. Well they would say that, wouldn't they.

Anti-smoking groups say plain packaging has reduced smoking. Well they would say that, wouldn't they.

So I'm going to stick my neck out. It appears to be working, but relatively slowly.

Australia became the first country to ban all images and words - apart from public health warnings - from cigarette packs in December 2012.

Simon Clark, from the pro-smoking lobbying group Forest, suggested there was substantial public opposition to the move in the UK and played down its impact in Australia.

He told BBC Breakfast: "There's no evidence that children start smoking because of packaging.

"Yes, smoking rates have continued to go down in Australia - but that's just in line with historical trends and we would expect the government to have at least waited for definitive evidence from Australia which it hasn't got."

media captionPublic Health Minister Jane Ellison announced plans for a vote on plain packaging

The Department of Health said the proposed design of the standardised packs had yet to be decided but released some examples of how they may look.

The examples are dull brown on the outside and white on the inside. Apart from health warnings, the brand or variant name will be the only text allowed.

Shadow health minister Luciana Berger said the change had been a "long time coming" and that standardised packaging would be a vital step in dealing with the "glitzy appeal" of smoking.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage tweeted: "Plain packaging is an appalling intrusion into consumer choice and the operation of the free market. Jobs and tax revenue would suffer."

Further tobacco controls are due to come into force in May 2016, when the European Tobacco Products Directive will require larger picture health warnings on packets and will ban flavourings, including menthol.

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