In July this year, following a UK consultation seeking views on standardised tobacco packaging, the government put on hold any plans to introduce legislation until evidence of its impact in Australia, where the measure has been in place for around a year, had been analysed.
But on Thursday (28 November) public health minister Jane Ellison announced that an independent review into the health impact of standardised packaging had been commissioned. The review will be carried out by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler, with a report due in March next year.
Ellison said: “The report of last year’s consultation published earlier this year showed that opinions were highly polarised with strong views put forward on both sides of the debate. Things have moved on and research evidence continues to emerge.
“We know that two thirds of smokers start as children so we must continue to do all we can to encourage everyone to quit and in the case of children, not to start in the first place,” she added.
Meanwhile, the government is to table an amendment in the Children and Families Bill, currently being considered in the House of Lords, that would give politicians powers to push through new legislation enforcing the adoption of standardised packaging, should they choose to, following Sir Cyril’s report in March 2014.
Mike Ridgway, who heads a lobby group of seven UK packaging business, called the latest announcement from government “surprising” considering its position in July and the 600,000 consultation responses that were against the move.
“However, in view of amendments being tabled in the House of Lords to the Children and Families Bill it is understandable that if a further review is required of the Australian experience now is the time to do it," he added.
Ridgway said that evidence from Australia so far did not indicate that new packaging laws were having any impact on smoking trends and that recent studies had in fact revealed increases in illicit and counterfeit trade.
“In addition some retail studies have indicated that a trading down is taking place with tobacco now becoming a commodity item compared to a premium branded product with resulting increased volume purchases by certain income groups," he said.
Ridgway highlighted the potential impact a move to standardised packaging would have on the printing and packaging industry and stressed that any moves to legislate should be evidence-based.
“Should plain packaging be introduced it will obviously affect employment in the printing and packaging industry as a move to simplified specifications will eliminate the need for pack enhancements and features that form complexity that make counterfeiting and product copying easier for the illicit trader.
"The packaging industry has always supported balanced regulation but states that this should be evidence-based rather than excessive in nature where there is no indication that it will affect the smoking levels in general and with uptake by young people in particular.”