The UK Government has decided it will introduce a new law to force cigarette manufacturers to package their products in plain boxes with prominently displayed health warnings, in a bid to further remove the attraction of smoking, reports the BBC.
The Government has been considering 'plain packaging' for cigarettes for some time, and considered introducing a new law earlier in this parliamentary session, only for the Conservatives to back down on the matter.
That prompted anti-smoking campaigners to accuse the Government of being in the pay of the powerful tobacco lobby, who have campaigned vehemently against plain packaging laws in every country where they are being proposed.
The first country to introduce plain cigarette packaging was Australia, with the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011. This law required all cigarettes sold from 1 December 2012 to be in plain dark-green packaging. The only distinguishing feature between brands was the name, written in a small standard font on the front of the pack.
Cigarette companies including Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco immediately formed an alliance to challenge the Australian laws.
The manufacturers launched a legal action against the legality of the laws on the basis that they infringe the trademarks of the companies, and also launched a media campaign to highlight the fact that counterfeit cigarettes would become more popular as a result, which could lead to higher levels of teenage smoking.
The UK Government has watched developments in Australia closely, and commissioned a report by paediatrician Professor Sir Cyril Chantler to look into the evidence on plain packaging and make a recommendation on whether the Government should introduce a new law.
The Chantler report concluded that there was a strong link between the packaging of cigarettes and their appeal particularly to young people.
The report identified the fact that cigarette packaging was designed to target certain key groups, and also the fact that due to UK law prohibiting cigarette advertising so comprehensively, the design on the packet acts as a 'silent salesman' for the brand.
The report concluded that whilst there have been no 'randomised' trials looking at plain packaging's effects on children, there was enough evidence from studies looking at opinions of plain and branded packaging from smokers and non-smokers to conclude that plain packets were less appealing than branded ones, that health warnings were more memorable on a plain packet, and that 'lighter' brands were less likely to be perceived as 'healthy' when branding is removed.
The report concludes that plain packaging would reduce the appeal of smoking, and would therefore reduce the rate of children taking up smoking, protecting the health of future generations.
The Government has announced that it will now publish draft legislation, for a final short consultation on the matter, before pressing ahead with a new law.
Critics accused the Government of bowing to pressure to further delay new laws for a consultation that is not needed or wanted.
"There is an overwhelming body of evidence in favour of standardised packaging and there can be no excuse for a further delay," said shadow health secretary Luciana Berger.
"How many more children are going to take up smoking before this Government makes a decision?" she added.