MPs vote ‘yes’ to standardised tobacco packaging in UK

Cancer Research UK

Plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products will be on the shelves across the UK next year. 

“Today’s historic vote in Parliament marks a strong and clear commitment to the health of future generations" - Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK

Following a majority vote, MPs have given their backing to the measure that will see tobacco packaging stripped of all marketing features.

Tobacco companies will be forced to sell their products in dark-coloured packs with large health warnings from 20 May 2016, subject to final approval in the House of Lords next week.  

The decision lands on national No Smoking Day, a week after the Republic of Ireland became the first country in Europe to approve the measure.

Australia was the first country in the world to introduce the law in December 2012.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This great result is one we’ve been looking forward to for many years. 

“Today’s historic vote in Parliament marks a strong and clear commitment to the health of future generations, as well as strengthening this country’s ability to protect children from tobacco marketing. 

The regulations will come into effect at the same time as the revised EU Tobacco Products Directive, which introduces a raft of measures such as larger health warnings on packs and a ban on the sale of so-called ‘pocket money’ 10 packs of cigarettes.

The Government launched the first consultation on standardised packaging in April 2012. And an independent review two years later, chaired by Sir Cyril Chantler, made a "compelling case" that standardised packaging would be likely to have health benefits for children. 

The Chantler review also dismissed tobacco industry arguments that standardised packaging would result in a rise in the illegal tobacco market. HM Revenue & Customs gave a similar verdict in its own assessment, concluding that: “Standardised packaging would not introduce any new risks to the UK illicit market”.

Earlier this year, the UK Government announced plans to put the regulations to a vote ahead of the upcoming general election. And public health experts have been awaiting the result until today.

Royal Medical Colleges and health charities have voiced their ambition to see these measures contribute to the UK’s progress in driving down smoking rates.

“During the last three years we’ve seen the evidence grow about the impact of tobacco packaging. Strong support for removing the slick marketing of today’s packs has increased among the public and across the political spectrum,” Cancer Research UK’s Harpal Kumar said.

“There are around 100,000 people who die from tobacco in the UK every year. Standard packs will help reduce the number of lives blighted by this lethal product and help us move towards a tobacco free generation” he added. 

New Zealand, Finland, France and Norway are among the other counties considering introducing similar regulations.