Cigarettes To Be Stripped Of Branding
Cigarettes are set to be stripped of branding and instead sold in plain boxes after an independent review made a "compelling case" for action.
Jane Ellison, the public health minister, told MPs that she would proceed with plans for plain packaging amid heckles from Conservative backbenchers, who shouted "shame" after about turns by the Government on the issue.
She said Sir Cyril Chantler's report, published on Thursday, had convinced her that the move could reduce the number of young people taking up smoking.
She said: "Across the UK, over 200,000 children aged between 11-15 start smoking every year. In other words, around 600 children start smoking in the UK every day.
"Many of these children will grow up with a nicotine addiction that they will find extremely difficult to break."
The minister called it a "tragedy" and pointed to Sir Cyril's conclusion that even a 2% drop in the rate would mean 4,000 fewer children taking up smoking each year.
The minister said there would be one more short consultation, but added that she wanted to "move forward as swiftly as possible".
It comes after two U-turns by the Government. Andrew Lansley said he was already convinced of the benefits of standardised packs in 2012 - when as health secretary he launched a consultation.
A year later, his successor Jeremy Hunt said it was too early to introduce the change arguing that it would be better to wait for evidence to emerge from Australia, where the change has already happened.
But the Prime Minister appeared to change his mind again after coming under pressure from critics who said it was his chief strategist Lynton Crosby's links with big tobacco that was driving the decision.
That triggered this latest review. Sir Cyril said branded cigarettes were "badge products, frequently on display". They acted as a "silent salesman".
"Tobacco packages appear to be especially important as a means of communicating brand imagery in countries like Australia and the UK which have comprehensive bans on advertising and promotion," he said.
He said children could not be quarantined from being exposed to the persuasive effects of the packaging even if that wasn't the intent.
"In the light of these and other considerations set out in my report I believe that branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption."
Critics on the Conservative backbenches include Philip Davies who has argued that such a change amounts to the Government acting as a "nanny state".
Sir Gerald Howarth said his concerns centred on the cost to Exchequer as a result of plain packages being easier to fake - leading to a surge in counterfeit packs in Australia.
And Jacob Rees Mogg pointed out the report's admission that it is too early to draw definitive conclusions from what happened in Australia.
However, Sir Cyril added that did not stop him from drawing the conclusion that plain packaging would trigger a health benefit in Britain.
Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH, said: "The tobacco industry's arguments against the policy are spurious. This policy is the vital next step in reducing smoking rates, and cutting the toll and death and disease that smoking causes."
Baroness Tyler, President of the National Children's Bureau, agreed: "Hundreds of thousands of children start smoking every year, resulting in preventable conditions including respiratory infections, asthma, heart disease and cancer."