This surrender to the tobacco industry will result in more young people and children smoking

The government today announced that it will not be introducing legislation on standardised packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Martin Dockrell is director of policy and research at Action on Smoking and Health (Ash)

The government today announced that it will not be introducing legislation on standardised packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

This timid surrender to the tobacco industry will simply lead to more young people and children starting to smoke.

More than 200,000 people under the age of 16 start to smoke every year, or abour 570 every day.

But the fundamental case for standardised packaging remains simple and clearly justified by the evidence. Smoking tobacco is a damaging addiction. Cigarettes are the only legal products sold in the UK that kills their consumers when used exactly as the manufacturer intends.

No company should be allowed to promote such a product through advertising and marketing. Children, and the most vulnerable groups of children in particular, need protection from the tobacco industry’s never ending search for new addicts. Tobacco packaging should be made as unattractive as possible.

The evidence backing standard packs was clearly set out in the Department of Health’s (DH) own consultation document. A systematic review of peer reviewed studies found that plain standard packaging is less attractive especially to young people, improves the effectiveness of health warnings, reduces mistaken beliefs that some brands are ‘safer’ than others and is therefore likely to reduce smoking uptake amongst children and young people.

The majority of the public support standardised packaging: a poll on the issue by YouGov, conducted for ASH in February 2013 found that 64 per cent of adults in Great Britain were in favour of the proposal.

Since the close of the public consultation, Australia has implemented standard packs and Ireland has pledged to do so next year. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments have all stated their support for the policy.

The tobacco industry has run a well-funded and grossly misleading campaign against standard packs in the UK and around the world.

In the UK alone, just one of the big four tobacco multinationals, Japan Tobacco International, is spending £2 million on the campaign. A series of advertisements from JTI opposing standardised packs breached the UK advertising code, according to the Advertising Standards Authority.

They cannot be allowed to buy their way out of appropriate regulation of their products.

So we won’t accept that this is the end of the story. If the government is too frightened to act, then Parliament should decide the issue on a free vote, as it did over the introduction of smokefree workplaces in 2006.

We will be working on a finding a way in which this can happen as soon as possible, and we will keep Left Foot Forward readers informed of how we get on.

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