Doctors’ leaders are urging the government to implement laws that would force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain packaging to make them less attractive.
The call from the BMA follows this week’s announcement that the Australian High Court has dismissed an appeal by the tobacco industry against the introduction of plain tobacco packaging in the country later this year.
The high court decision upholds moves by the Australian government to implement restrictions that mean from December, tobacco products will have to be sold in Australia in olive green packaging bearing graphic health warnings. Australia will be the first country in the world to introduce such rules.
The idea is to prevent the industry from using package design to entice young people to smoke.
The BMA wants the UK government to introduce laws on tobacco packaging that would also lessen the appeal of smoking. It has backed proposals outlined in a government consultation to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products. This consultation closed last week.
Such packaging would include no branding, a uniform colour, and standard font and text.
BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson said standardised packaging would be a key measure to help protect young people from evocative brand imagery.
She said: “The introduction of standardised packaging would limit the marketing power associated with branding, and reduce the appeal of tobacco products to consumers, especially young people.
“It has the potential to discourage young people from starting smoking, make it easier for smokers to give up, and discourage people who have quit from relapsing.”
Dr Nathanson says that surveys conducted in England and Scotland indicated public support for standardised packaging, which she insisted should be “dull and unappealing”.
“It is essential that plain packaging is eventually extended to other related products, including e-cigarettes, to prevent brand stretching by the tobacco industry.”
The BMA said it did not believe that standardised packaging would increase the sale of counterfeit tobacco as the industry had claimed, because there were other features to aid the identification of genuine products.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health also endorsed standardised packaging and its president Hilary Cass said: “We are urging government to stub out eye-catching designs and prevent our children from developing these deadly illnesses in their adult life.”
Peter Hollins, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This [Australian] decision should now be echoed around the globe to make it clear that plain packs protect, no matter what smoke and mirrors the tobacco industry employ.
“Australia can look forward to a future where the cigarette giants can’t entice young people to smoke, and so prevent the disease and death brought about by this lethal addiction. I hope the UK can soon boast of the same future.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of campaigning charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said: “Australia’s defeat of Big Tobacco is a victory for the world. Where Australia leads other countries will follow. Now the UK government’s consultation on plain standardised packaging of tobacco has closed we are well placed to be next.”