Ministers are to push ahead with a study on the effects of plain packaging, which will report by the end of March. Subject to its findings, the policy could be implemented in the first part of 2015, before the general election.
The news is somewhat of a u-turn by the Government, which postponed plans to introduce standardised plain cigarette packing in July. At the time, it said it wanted to wait for results from Australia, which was the first country to introduce plain packaging in December last year.
The Department of Health told the BBC that all options are under consideration in the review, including options such as using one colour on all cigarette boxes, adding a tax mark or using larger graphic images of smoking-related diseases.
Health charities have welcomed the review, with Cancer Research UK saying the policy could help to save “thousands of lives”. It cites “substantial evidence” that advertising and promotion draws young people into smoking, with cigarette packs designed to be “attractive and communicate the personality of a brand”
Dr Harpal Kumar, the charity’s CEO, says: “Stopping cigarettes being marketed to children as a glamorous and desirable accessory is one of the greatest gifts we can give the next generation. If this becomes law, there is no question that it will save thousands of lives in the future.”
The review is a blow to tobacco companies, which have aggressively lobbied to persuade the Government not to introduce such a policy. Japan Tobacco International, owner of brands including Camel and Benson & Hedges also looked to persuade the public and lawmakers of the consequences of introducing plain packaging with the launch of three marketing campaigns – two of which were banned by the advertising regulator.
Exclusive research commissioned by Marketing Week last year found the majority of smokers and non-smokers in the UK were unconvinced stripping logos and branding from cigarette packaging will make them less appealing.