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Smoking laws: UK considers 'plain packaging' regulations

The Government is considering plans to force cigarette manufacturers to sell their products in simple, plain packaging in a move to further reduce the attraction of smoking.

They yesterday announced a three-month consultation which will ask for views on the proposal, which will include a suggestion for a standardised template, leaving the packaging as it is, or asking for suggestions for different packaging.

The move comes amid government figures which show that despite a reduction in the number of smokers, the habit still claims more than 100,000 UK deaths each year.

The proposed change to the packaging of cigarettes comes in a month when new legislation has outlawed the display of cigarettes in shops. From 6th April large shops over 280m² must keep cigarettes out of sight below the counter. Smaller outlets will be given until 2015 to make the change.

The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said in a statement: "Smoking remains one of the most significant challenges to public health."

"That is why the health ministers across the UK have a responsibility to look closely at initiatives that might encourage smokers to quit and stop young people taking up smoking in the first place," he said.

The proposals for plain packaging has been pioneered by the Australian Government who are banning eye-catching designs on packaging, forcing manufacturers to label products with a simple font and a clear health warning. The legislation from the Canberra Government is due to come into force in December 2012.

It is thought that cigarette manufacturers may challenge any proposed change in the law, with companies announcing that they may take their case to the Australian High Court.

Cigarette manufacturers claim that there is no evidence that the proposed changes will work, and argue that as businesses they should have a right to differentiate their products from one another. They also claim that the move will encourage counterfeiting as packaging will be simpler to reproduce.

The government consultation will run for 12 weeks until 10 July. Responses are invited from any interested parties.

Related links:

Read more on the story (Reuters)

Picture health warnings on tobacco products (FindLaw)