By Simon Nias, Thursday 22 January 2015
A parliamentary vote on the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products has been bumped up and will now take place before the general election.
Announcing the decision yesterday, public health minister Jane Ellison MP said: "This government is completely committed to protecting children from the harm that tobacco causes.
"That's why I'm announcing today that we will be bringing forward legislation for standardised packaging before the end of this parliament."
Plain tobacco packaging, which was originally proposed in the UK in 2010 before stalling for several years, could now come in to effect in May 2016 subject to the upcoming parliamentary vote.
The announcement comes a week after shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused the Prime Minister David Cameron of being "too close to powerful vested interests to stand up for our children".
Burnham, who was unveiling Labour's public health policy, which includes a promise to introduce standardised cigarette packaging "immediately" in order to counter the "increasingly sophisticated methods of recruiting new, young smokers".
Responding to Burnham's speech, Mike Ridgway, director of the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance, said: "This will only be the start of a continual drift towards more controls and regulatory pressure into other consumer markets.
"In the tobacco sector it started with written health warnings, then larger ones with graphical illustrations. The question is how soon will alcohol and other products go the same way?"
He added: "The packaging industry stands in the middle of this situation and will undoubtedly be the loser if the proposals become law and if reductions in specification complexity, added value and loss of production value take place.
"It is clear that the role of packaging is greatly misunderstood and with it the contribution it makes to an industrialised economy."
Pro-smoking lobbying group Forest also criticised the decision, which director Simon Clark described as "a huge risk".
"There's no evidence plain packaging reduces smoking rates but there is evidence it increases illicit trade," said Clark. "This decision has nothing to do with health. It's politics, pure and simple.
"Next year, under the EU's Tobacco Products Directive, health warnings will increase in size. The government should wait and assess the impact of that policy before proceeding with even more regulations."