Public health plans an "important step" - but still no action on tobacco marketing

In collaboration with Adfero

Cancer Research UK has welcomed the publication of the public health white paper this week, but believes the government should have gone further in its efforts to tackle smoking and tobacco-related ill health.

In its 'Healthy Lives, Healthy People' white paper, the Coalition government acknowledges that both central and local government have an important role to play in protecting children from tobacco-related harm, through legislation and enforcement.

The white paper confirms that the existing smoke-free laws will be maintained in England and that a ban on tobacco vending machines will come into force on October 1st 2011.

A new Tobacco Control Plan will be drawn up, providing further details of the government's plans for creating environments that discourage smoking and bringing about cultural change to make smoking appear less normal.

The government has confirmed that it "will look at whether the plain packaging of tobacco products could be an effective way to reduce the number of young people taking up smoking and to help those who are trying to quit smoking".

However, ministers want to see "good evidence to demonstrate that plain packaging would have a public health benefit, as well as carefully exploring the competition, trade and legal implications" before adopting such a policy.

Australia has already announced its intention to introduce plain packaging in the face of fierce opposition from the tobacco industry.

In addition, the government has refused to commit to a ban on displays of tobacco in shops even though the measure is already on the statute books, but is instead "considering options".

Aisling Burnand, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and public affairs, said that health secretary Andrew Lansley's intention to look into plain packaging for tobacco is "an important step forward in reducing deaths from smoking".

However, she insisted: "A commitment to think further about plain packs cannot be a substitute for enacting the vital legislation to put tobacco out of sight in shops.

"There is strong evidence that removing displays of tobacco from shops makes smoking less attractive and less accessible to teenagers. As 80 per cent of adult smokers start in their teens, this is crucial for public health."

Ms Burnard continued: "The white paper says the government wants to create environments that further discourage smoking and help bring about cultural change. Leaving tobacco on display in shops and supermarkets up and down the country would seriously undermine their aim of improving public health. The government must put the health of the nation above the interests of the tobacco industry."

Cancer Research UK's concerns have been echoed by Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the British Medical Association's (BMA) director of professional activities.

She said: "Smoking is still the leading cause of ill health and premature death, so it is extremely important to help people quit and discourage young people and children from starting in the first place.

"The BMA therefore urges the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to implement the tobacco aspects of the 2009 Health Act now, as this would end tobacco displays in large supermarkets from September 2011. We do not understand why he is not taking this decisive action to put cigarettes out of sight in shops."