'There is going to be legislation' on standardised tobacco packaging

In collaboration with the Press Association

Ministers could announce plans to introduce plain, standardised packets for cigarettes, reports suggest.

The legislation will be announced during the Queen's Speech in May, according to an unnamed source reported in the Guardian.

The source said the Government also plans to ban smoking in cars carrying children.

However, senior Department of Health officials insisted that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is yet to make a decision about the move.

In December, Australia became the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in standardised packs.

Cigarettes and other tobacco products are now sold in packaging of a standardised colour, with only the brand name and graphic warnings visible.

"We are going to follow what they have done in Australia," a senior Whitehall source told the Guardian.

"The evidence suggests it is going to deter young smokers. There is going to be legislation."

In April last year, the Government launched a consultation on plans to introduce mandatory standardised packaging for tobacco products.

Health campaigners have welcomed the proposal, saying that brightly coloured packages are one of the last marketing ploys tobacco companies use to lure people to their products.

Opponents claim it would lead to increased smuggling, a claim denied by experts.

Information generated by the consultation, which closed in August, is still being analysed by health officials.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We have received many thousands of responses to the tobacco packaging consultation. We are currently in the process of carefully collating and analysing all the responses received.

"The Government has an open mind on this issue and any decisions to take further action will be taken only after full consideration of the consultation responses, evidence and other relevant information."

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said the charity strongly supported proposals to introduce plain, standardised packaging of tobacco, and other measures to reduce the harm caused by smoking.

"Introducing standardised packaging would be a huge public health achievement for the Government. And despite strong lobbying from the tobacco industry, we know the majority of the public backs plain packs," he said.

"We urge the Government to move forward with this measure and give it our full backing."

Pack design is said to be one of the last marketing tools available to the industry. "Existing glitzy and colourful packs hold real appeal for young people, reducing the impact of health warnings and often misleading them to believe cigarettes are less harmful than they are," said Kumar.

"We must silence the tobacco industry's capacity to target children in this way, particularly as 157,000 children still start smoking every year. Plain, standardised packaging won't stop everyone from smoking - but it will give millions of children one less reason to start," he added.

Copyright Press Association 2013