The government is considering bringing in plain packaging for tobacco products to make them less attractive to children.
Brand packs could all have to be a standard colour, such as grey or brown, with nothing but basic information on the product and details and pictures about the health risks.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health confirmed that ministers want to find out whether introducing plain packaging would prevent children from taking up smoking and help smokers who want to quit.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “The evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers, so it makes sense to consider having less attractive packaging. It’s wrong that children are being attracted to smoke by glitzy designs on packets.”
Mr Lansley noted that the government will soon set out a “radical new approach” to public health in a forthcoming White Paper.
He added: “We want to go further and faster in improving the health of the nation based firmly on doing what the evidence tells us works.”
Martin Dockrell, a spokesman for anti-smoking campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said that putting tobacco in plain packs would be a “historic step” for public health.
“Marketing men have become increasingly pushy with pack design, making it a 21st-century billboard, identifying this brand as ‘cool’ and that brand as ‘feminine’,” he added.
However, the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association claimed the move could lead to an increase in the smuggling of tobacco products.
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “It is encouraging to hear the government wants ‘to go further and faster in improving the health of the nation’. Tobacco remains the single biggest preventable cause of death. Unless smokers are helped to quit and more young people are stopped from starting, more lives will be lost to smoking.
“Wrapping cigarettes in plain packaging will stop the packets acting as silent salesmen that work to attract young people with bright colours and eye-catching designs. But we urge this government to take the vital step of removing the large, brightly-lit shop displays. We know the public supports this and it is effective in protecting young people from tobacco marketing without harming business.”