Government confirms tobacco pack plans

The Government is to consider introducing plain packaging for tobacco products and will hold a consultation before the end of the year.

Ministers laid out new plans to clamp down on cigarette packaging as anti-tobacco campaigners marked No Smoking Day, today. Health secretary Andrew Lansley laid out the plans in a new Public Health White Paper called A Tobacco Control Plan for England. The document states that the government will look at whether the plain packaging of tobacco products could be effective in reducing the number of young people who take up smoking and in supporting adult smokers who want to quit.The government explains that it wants to make it “easier for people to make healthy choices but wants to understand whether there is evidence to demonstrate that plain packaging would have an additional public health benefit”. The coalition will also explore the competition trade and legal implications, and the likely impact on the illicit tobacco market of options around tobacco packaging. “Smoking affects the health of smokers and their families. My ambition is to reduce smoking rates faster over the next five years than has been achieved in the past five years,” health secretary Andrew Lansley said. The government aims to cut smoking among adults in England from 21.5% to 18.5% by 2015, accelerating the reductions seen in the last five years.

IP rights ‘breach’

“The TMA is strongly opposed to the principle of plain packaging and would expect a genuine consultation and regulatory impact assessment if the government decides to pursue this further. We do not believe any plans for plain packaging are based on sound public policy, nor any compelling evidence,” said Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association chief executive  Christopher Ogden. He continued: “Moves to prevent tobacco companies from exercising their intellectual property rights would place the Government in breach of legal obligations relating to intellectual property, international trade and European law.
“Plain packs are also likely to lead to yet further increases in the smuggling of tobacco products and plain packs would make it so much easier for a counterfeiter to copy than existing branded packs making it even more difficult for a consumer to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit products.” The coalition has also delayed the implementation of a point-of-sale display ban.
The ban on displaying tobacco products at the point of sale – introduced by Labour in 2009 – was not set to be implemented until October this year for larger shops like supermarkets and October 2013 for smaller retailers like cornershops and newsagents. The government has pushed back these deadlines to April 2012 and April 2015 respectively, as well as amending the regulations to provide loopholes.

‘Pointless duplication’

The British Retail Consortium has said that enforcing a display ban on tobacco products at at a time when a requirement for plaint tobacco packaging is still being considered risks pointless duplication. BRC food director Andrew Opie said: “Retailers support efforts to reduce the harm caused by smoking but there’s no evidence that forcing shops to put cigarettes out of sight will make any difference. It puts new costs on retaielrs who are being forced to refit their storeis, and will inconvenience customers who have to wait longer to be served. “Giving retailers longer to prepare for this legislation is helpful, but there is a much bigger issue to be addressed. If the government aims to introduce plain packaging then a display ban is unnecessary.”

‘Good news’

Anti-tobacco groups welcomed the Government’s report. Cancer Research UK chief executive Harpal Kumar said: “It’s good news that the government plans to take down tobacco displays in shops and is considering stripping the attractive packaging from cigarettes. These two moves would complement each other very well and together would help save lives.
“We are very disappointed that there is going to be such a delay in the removal of tobacco displays in small shops. We must never forget that every day 400 children start smoking.  Our young people will be exposed to persuasive tobacco marketing for two years longer than necessary. However, it is positive that the Government will still remove cigarette vending machines as planned. “Like smokefree laws and the ban on tobacco advertising, plain packaging would be a giant leap forward in protecting public health. Research shows that plain packaging reduces false beliefs about how harmful different tobacco products are. We also know that plain packs are less attractive, especially to young people, and they make the health warnings on cigarette packets more effective.”

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