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Government makes ‘u-turn’ on introducing plain tobacco packaging

The UK Government has said it will not make a decision on introducing plain tobacco packaging until it has seen the results of the intiative in Australia, leading to accusations that it has made a policy ‘u-turn’ on the same day that the Scottish Government has confirmed it is to go ahead with the policy.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said a consultation by the DH, the results of which were published today, showed ‘differing views, so the Government will not make further progress on introducing legislation until ‘the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured’.

Prime minister David Cameron had previously hinted that the Government would introduce legislation towards plain tobacco packaging, but its omission from May’s Queen’s Speech led to fears that ministers were dropping the idea.

On the same day, the Scottish Government confirmed it was going to press ahead with its plans to introduce standardised packaging.

The BMA described the decision as a ‘u-turn’ and said it was ‘deeply disappointing’ the Government had ‘given in to pressure’ from tobacco companies as evidence suggests that packaging is influential in getting young people to start smoking.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Obviously we take very seriously the potential for standardised packaging to reduce smoking rates, but in light of the differing views, we have decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured, and then we will make a decision in England.

To date, Australia is the only Government to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products. However, Scotland, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland have committed to following Australia’s lead.

A Scottish Government statement said: ‘It is disappointing that the UK Government has decided not to take action on the standardised packaging of tobacco products.

‘The Scottish Government remains committed to introducing standardised packaging, given the strong evidence to support the impact it will have on preventing young people from starting to smoke. We will now identify an appropriate timescale to introduce legislation on standardised packaging to the Scottish Parliament.’

On the UK Government’s decision, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, said: ‘It is deeply disappointing that the Government has given in to the pressure from the tobacco industry and rather than pressing ahead with standard packaging it has instead kicked the policy into the long grass.

‘Evidence shows that packaging is a key marketing tool for the tobacco industry and an influence on younger people who start smoking. As doctors we see first hand the devastating effects of tobacco addiction and therefore we urge the Government to reconsider and introduce legislation forcing the industry to adopt standard packaging and help put an end to a life-long addiction that kills and destroys health.’

Dr Nathanson added: ‘It is also concerning to read reports that the Government is expected to u-turn on another important public health measure and reverse its pledge to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol. This is an essential part of any effective harm reduction strategy.’