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MPs vote to introduce standardised cigarette packs

Plan is for standardised tobacco packaging to be introduced from 20th May 2016

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

MPs at Westminster have voted overwhelming to introduce standardised tobacco packaging in the UK.

A total of 367 MPs voted in favour of the measure and just 113 against, despite intense lobbying by the tobacco industry to sway politicians against the measure.

Following the vote in the Commons, the regulations will now pass to the House of Lords. A vote in the Lords is expected to take place next week. If passed, the regulations are expected to take effect from May 2016.

Standardised packaging will mean that every packet will look the same, except for the make and brand name, with graphic photos accompanying health warnings. The packaging will be introduced at the same time as the EU Tobacco Products Directive measures on packaging and labelling, increasing the size of the health warnings to 65% of the pack and putting picture warnings on the front of all packs, on 20th May 2016.

Prof Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said: “There are now more than 50 studies looking at the potential impact of plain packaging, conducted in a number of countries. There is also new evidence from Australia where the policy is in place. All the evidence suggests that plain packaging will do three things: reduce the appeal of smoking and the pack; reduce confusion about the harm from smoking that the colour, text and images on packaging can convey; and improve how noticeable and visible the health warnings on packs are.

“The tobacco industry claims that there is no evidence that this policy would work. However we've looked at all the evidence and they are wrong. Alongside the other measures we already have in place to prevent smoking and help smokers quit, plain packaging will make a difference.”

Professor Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said: “This is a historic decision. It closes off one of the last remaining routes that the tobacco industry uses to promote cigarettes as alluring and exciting and masking the fact that instead they cause illness, death and misery for smokers and their families.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH said: “The Government, and MPs from all parties, are to be congratulated for resisting the bully-boy tactics and misinformation of the tobacco industry and for implementing the most important public health reform of this Parliament.” 

The government announced in 2011 it would be considering introducing standardised packaging and ran a consultation in 2012. However, it decided to wait for data on the impact in Australia which implemented standardised packaging in December 2012.

Another review carried out by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler concluded last year that it was very likely the change would lead to a modest but important reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking.

The Irish Republic has already voted to follow Australia’s lead and introduce standardise packaging.

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