June 26, 2014
Plain packaging for cigarettes will come a step closer when ministers announce regulations to enact the historic move on Thursday.
The Department of Health’s confirmation that it is finally bringing forward the regulations will delight doctors and health charities, who have been growing increasingly concerned about ministers’ failure to do so by their promised deadline.
When the government’s review on plain packaging of cigarettes reported on 3 April, Jane Ellison, the public health minister, embraced its endorsement of the plan and said she would bring forward draft regulations by the end of that month.
This will finally happen on Thursday through a written ministerial statement to MPs.
The government initially supported plain packaging, but then dropped the plan in July 2013, amid suspicions that the Conservatives’ election strategist, Lynton Crosby – a lobbyist who had been involved in opposing the move in Australia – had persuaded David Cameron not to pursue it. However, widespread anger in the medical community and the Department of Health’s continuing support for plain packaging forced a rethink.
Thursday’s move will not necessarily guarantee plain packaging will be pushed through before the general election in May. The statement will say there will be a further, short public consultation and negotiations with the EU, which will take about six months, before the plans are enacted in the UK.
The new, second consultation is thought to be necessary to help the government defeat any legal moves to delay or outlaw plain packaging by tobacco firms, which fear it will damage their profits.
In December 2012 Australia became the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging. The move was widely supported by doctors as a way of deglamourising smoking and deterring children from smoking.
New Zealand and France have pledged to follow suit, while Ireland has recently introduced primary legislation to do the same.
Ellison has said that if standardised packaging were introduced “it would be very likely to have a positive impact on public health”.
The government’s review, by Sir Cyril Chantler, said the importance of plain packaging should not be underestimated.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said it had taken “far too long” for the government to publish plans on how standardised packaging would be implemented in the UK.
“Tobacco is a killer product and it is misleading for it to be presented in glitzy packaging. Every day of delay allows the tobacco industry to tempt more young people into adopting a deadly habit,” he said.
“The government is fast running out of parliamentary time. It must now act with speed and decisiveness to ensure this crucial public health measure is law before the election.”
Source: The Guardian (June 26, 2014)
Note: The ‘Consultation on the introduction of regulations for standardised packaging of tobacco products’, includes draft regulations and is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/standardised-packaging-of-tobacco-products-draft-regulations