Packets would be unbranded without logos or colours with health warnings the only text on display.
The move would make England the first country to introduce plain packaging. The Department of Health believes that unbranded, colourless packets will make cigarettes less appealing to the 200,000 teenagers that are thought to take up smoking each year.
The Government is also pressing ahead with a ban on the display of cigarettes in shops. The previous Labour Government did put in place legislation to ban displays in 2009 that was not made law.
Displays in large shops will be banned from April 2012 and in all other shops from April 2015.
A ban on the display and branding of cigarettes would rob tobacco companies of the last major marketing channels available to them following the ban on advertising and sponsorship last decade.
Andrew Lansley, health secretary, says that the plans aim to “reshape social norms, so that tobacco becomes less desirable,
less acceptable and less accessible”.
Anti-smoking groups have backed the proposals but civil liberties groups and some MPs have labelled it as an example of the “nanny state”.
Retailers oppose the display ban, claiming it imposes additional costs and will hit sales.
Andrew Opie, food director at the British Retail Consortium, says: “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 retailers who are being forced to refit their stores, and will inconvenience customers who have to wait longer to be served.”
In a consultation document, the Government says it will also look at whether “further action is needed” to restrict the marketing of smoking accessories, including cigarette papers. It will also look at how companies use the internet to promote tobacco.