Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said his mind is “open” over proposals to strip cigarette packets of branding.
His comment comes as a consultation on plain packaging of cigarettes was launched today.
Mr Lansley invited people to give their views on whether branded cigarette packaging should disappear from the UK.
“We are going to consult on whether we think it will work,” he told ITV’s Daybreak.
“It is an open question at the moment. This is a particular issue… we have got a whole range of measures to try and reduce tobacco smoking in this country and control tobacco.
“Would plain packaging offer a significant additional health benefit? At the moment actually our minds are open on this subject – mine too.”
His remarks come after health campaigners welcomed the proposal but opponents claimed it would lead to increased smuggling and job losses.
Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Now the consultation on tobacco packaging has been launched, we welcome the opportunity for our supporters and researchers to show their support for reducing the appeal of cigarettes.
“Tobacco is a uniquely dangerous product so any action that helps reduce smoking rates is vital. Research shows children are drawn to brands with appealing packaging. The cigarette pack is simply a seductive marketing tool that attracts young people into a habit that kills half of all long term smokers. Put simply this silent salesman promises pleasure but delivers death.
“Our latest figures show that lung cancer rates are continuing to rise in women – a devastating legacy from smoking habits decades ago. Cancer Research UK urges everyone to make their voices heard and sign up to our campaign to bring in plain packaging for tobacco products. Preventing children from starting is vital, and while plain packs won’t stop everyone from starting, they will give millions of children one less reason to start.”
An opinion poll published yesterday found strong public support for the sale of plain packaged cigarettes in England.
The survey, by YouGov for campaigning charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), found 62 per cent supported the policy, which will be put out for consultation by ministers tomorrow.
Only 11 per cent were opposed to the move, the poll – published by The Observer – showed.
Mr Lansley issued a hostile warning to the tobacco industry last week saying he wanted to reach a point where it had “no business” in the UK.
Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said there was ample evidence that plain packs were less attractive to young people and also helped highlight the statutory health warnings.
“The argument used by ‘big tobacco’ and its supporters that this would lead to an increase in smuggling is laughable,” she said.
“It’s already so easy to copy packaging that it’s only through covert markings that enforcement officers can tell the difference between authentic and counterfeit cigarette packs.
“We need to make smoking history for our children and getting rid of the glitzy packaging is the essential next step if we are to succeed.”
Copyright Press Association 2012