Plain cigarette packets have been a resounding success in Australia and should be introduced in the UK “without delay”, Britain’s leading cancer charity has said.
Cancer Research UK said the country’s experiment with unbranded packaging had led to falling smoking rates without creating an illegal black market.
The charity’s claim contradicts the findings of a report commissioned by the tobacco industry earlier this year which concluded Australia had seen no reduction in smoking while sales of illegal packets had increased.
Plain or “standardised” tobacco packaging is stripped of all but the bare minimum branding material to reduce its appeal to vulnerable consumers, especially children.
Cancer Research is marking the second anniversary of the measure being introduced in Australia by renewing pressure on the UK Government.
Sarah Woolnough, the charity’s executive director of policy and information, said: “This is an anniversary worth celebrating. Australia took the lead on this issue and two years later they’re reaping the rewards.
“Smoking rates have fallen, more people than ever support standard packs and scare stories about flooding the market with cheap, illegal tobacco have failed to materialise.
“It’s been a resounding success in Australia and we’re confident the same can happen here.
“Research has shown that removing the colourful designs of tobacco packs reduces the appeal of smoking to children.
“This measure will help cut the number of people killed by smoking and we’re urging the UK Government to take the next steps as soon as possible.”
Public consultation on standard tobacco packaging in the UK began in April 2012 and Parliament “overwhelmingly” backed the measure at the end of 2013, she said.
Since then there has been an independent review by child health expert Sir Cyril Chantler. A consultation on the regulations for plain packaging is being reviewed by the Government.
Parliament will need to vote again ahead of the general election next May before the new packs can be introduced.
Ms Woolnough said: “It’s taken a long time and a lot of effort to reach this point but the Government must dedicate its efforts to make standardised packs a reality in this parliament.
“More than 100,000 people die every year from smoking-related diseases, making it the number one cause of preventable deaths in the UK. These new packs will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.”
Her comments come after research commissioned by the tobacco industry, and carried out by KPMG, found that the total consumption of tobacco in Australia appeared to be stable, while the level of illegal consumption of tobacco had reached record levels.
Responding to Cancer Research’s campaign, a Department of Health spokesman said: “We held a consultation on proposals to introduce the regulations and are considering all aspects of the policy before making a final decision.”