‘Time of the essence’ for standardised tobacco packaging plans

In collaboration with the Press Association

With under a year until the General Election, heath experts have called for the Government to bring forward proposals on the introduction of standardised ‘plain’ tobacco packaging.

"The government must dedicate its efforts to make standardised packs a reality in this parliament" - Chris Woodhall, Cancer Research UK

Ministers had originally pledged to bring forward draft regulations on the issue before the end of April.

But the authors of a letter published on the British Medical Journal website point out that, two months later, the proposals still have not been produced.

Most smokers start in childhood, and exposure to tobacco marketing is known to increase the likelihood of this happening.

Ending the marketing of cigarettes and tobacco products through the use of colourful and enticing packaging is therefore "a necessary and logical step to protect public health and particularly the health of children at risk of becoming smokers," they say on bmj.com.

According to the letter, an independent review has already rejected "misleading" claims from the tobacco industry that standardised packaging would fail to reduce levels of tobacco use. The review supports standardised packaging and rejected unsubstantiated claims that the introduction of standard packs would result in an increase in illegal tobacco sales.

Time is also of the essence, as the Government says any proposals will be part of a six-week consultation period. Once draft regulations have been published, the European Union will need to be ‘notified’, a process that could take another six months, according to the letter.

It adds: "We therefore ask you to confirm that they will be published in the next few weeks."

The call comes on the same day that the Republic of Ireland announced plans to introduce the measure.

Chris Woodhall, Cancer Research UK’s senior tobacco control officer, pointed out that the public health community’s ‘urgent’ calls were aimed at protecting children from an addiction which kills 100,000 people in the UK every year.

“Meanwhile the tobacco industry is doing all it can to oppose a measure threatening its business model. The industry relies on replacing the smokers who are killed by using their lethal product,” Woodhall said.

“There is no grey area in this debate. Eight in 10 smokers start by the age of 19 – the beginning of an addiction that will kill half of all long term users.

“With the full backing of medical professionals and the overwhelming support of the UK public, the government must dedicate its efforts to make standardised packs a reality in this parliament,” he added.

More than 100,000 people die every year from smoking-related diseases, making it the number one cause of preventable deaths in the UK.