Feb 1, 2010
Tobacco firms are set to be forced to sell cigarettes in plain, unbranded packets as the next step in the war on smoking.
Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, will signal his support for the move as he launches the government’s “tobacco control strategy” tomorrow which aims to halve the number of smokers in Britain by 2020.
In a major speech Mr Burnham will also pave the way for new “interventionist” policies aimed at stopping people smoking in their own homes or cars if they live with children.
However, he will stop short of planning an outright ban on domestic or in-car smoking – claiming this would be a move too far against freedom of choice.
Instead, ministers will consider banning the sale of cigarettes from vending machines, which they say currently provide far too easy access for children as they can be positioned near the entrances of pubs and clubs.
And the current ban on smoking in workplaces and “enclosed public places” such as pubs and workplaces could be extended to cover areas such as walkways and entrances to buildings, currently a favourite haunt of smokers exiled from inside.
Ministers will also announce a new crackdown on the import of cheap illicit cigarettes from abroad.
Mr Burnham said that while no final decisions had been taken, he personally backed moves to impose a “plain packaging” regime on tobacco manufacturers.
“It’s something I will be looking at closely,” he said.
He aims to halve the number of smokers from its current level of 21 per cent of the population to 10 per cent in 10 years.
If the ban comes in the Department of Health would be likely to outlaw the use of logos, colours and graphics on packets and require cigarettes to be sold in plain packs with just the text of the brand of cigarettes.
The tobacco industry admits that plain packaging would have a drastic effect on profits and do enormous damage to cigarette makers.
A ban on branding and logos on packets in England could see smokers abandoning well-known brands such as Marlboro and Silk Cut, which cost around £6 a pack, and switch to cheaper options.
Experts say the move could strip cigarettes of what remains of their glamorous image and help reduce the numbers of young people taking up the habit.
City analysts predict that if a ban was introduced in the UK it could have a “domino effect” on governments around the world, slashing worldwide profits of tobacco companies.
However, Mr Burnham believes that Britain is among the antismoking pioneers, with a ban on smoking in public places introduced in Scotland in 2006 and in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2007 and the government should not be afraid to adopt a similarly aggressive stance on packaging.
He said the drive to stop people smoking at home or in their cars to protect children from the effects of passive smoking could be taken forward with new hard-hitting advertising campaigns.
In his speech tomorrow he is expected to say: “I make no apology for taking a hard line when it comes to protecting children and giving them the best start in life.”
“We’re also looking at new protections for children.
“Recent studies have shown that tobacco packaging influences smoking behaviours, rather than simply promoting particular brands.
Removing brand marketing on packs and having a requirement for ‘plain packaging’ on all tobacco products would increase the effectiveness of health warnings and reduce misconceptions about the relative risks of different brands which terms like ‘smooth’ perpetuate.
“All cigarettes prematurely kill lifelong smokers regardless of make or brand. So we need to look closely at the evidence on the links between packaging and consumption.
“And we’re encouraging research to further our understanding, especially when it comes to children and young people. We’ll also seek views on the legal implications of any restrictions on packaging for intellectual property rights and freedom of trade.”
Currently, some 80,000 deaths are caused each year as a direct result of smoking and the habit costs the NHS around £2.7 billion per year.
Chris Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, said: “We welcome the new initiative to crack down on the illicit trade in tobacco products.”
However, he hit out at plans to force firms to use plain packaging and said: “All policy in this area should be based on evidence and not merely tokenistic.”
Source: Telegraph (February 1, 2010)