UK mulls plain cigarette packs to cut smoking
LONDON, April 16 — Britain could soon force cigarette makers to sell plain, brand-free packets as the government seeks to deter a habit which it says is responsible for over 100,000 UK deaths a year and puts pressure on the public health system. A three-month consultation launched by the government today will ask for views on whether packets of cigarettes should be changed to a plain, standardised template, remain as they are, or be fashioned in a different way.
British governments have already banned tobacco advertising, introduced stark health warnings and images of smoking-related diseases on packets, and earlier this month imposed a ban on tobacco displays in large shops to deter would-be buyers.
“Smoking remains one of the most significant challenges to public health,” said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in a statement. “Each year it accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK and one in two long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking disease.”
“That is why the health ministers across the UK have a responsibility to look closely at initiatives that might encourage smokers to quit and stop young people taking up smoking in the first place.”
Australia is the only nation planning to introduce plain packaging which will ban eye-catching designs and branding from cigarette packages with the packs displaying the product name in a plain typeface along with graphic health warnings.
Legislation from the Canberra government is due to take effect by December 2012 but some of the world's biggest cigarette companies are mounting a legal challenge and fighting the move in the Australian High Court.
Health campaigners have welcomed the idea of plain packs as it could making smoking less attractive for young people, while the tobacco industry argues it will challenge the use of its trademarks and lead to increased smuggling and job losses.
Major opponents include Imperial Tobacco with its Lambert & Butler and Richmond brands, as well as Benson & Hedges and Silk cut maker Japan Tobacco, which together control over 80 per cent of the UK cigarette market. British American Tobacco has around a 6 per cent share.
They argues their trademarks are protected by law and they have the right to differentiate theirs brands. They also say the move would encourage counterfeit products by making it easier to copy generic packaging and there is no evidence that packaging is a reason why people start or continue to smoke.
The consultation will run for 12 weeks up to July 10, and responses are invited from any interested parties.
Despite claims from some opponents that he has already decided to introduce plain packaging, Lansley has repeatedly insisted he is keeping an open mind on the proposal.
Earlier this month, new rules came into effect for all large shops and supermarkets in England to cover up cigarettes from public view to protect children from being the target of tobacco promotion and help people quit smoking. The rules will be extended to all shops by April 2015.
Imperial shares were up 1 per cent at 2,482 pence and BAT 0.7 percent ahead at 3,151 pence by 1025 GMT, largely in line with a firmer London stock market. — Reuters