Health campaigners have condemned reports suggesting that the Government has scrapped plans to introduce plain, standardised cigarette packs.
Officials have been weighing up the move for over a year and it was widely expected that the initiative would be announced during next week’s Queen’s speech.
But reports suggest that the proposed law will be pulled from the speech on May 8.
A Whitehall source told The Sun: “Plain packaging may or may not be a good idea, but it’s nothing to do with the Government’s key purpose.
“The PM is determined to strip down everything we do so we can concentrate all our efforts on voter’s essentials. That means growth, immigration and welfare reform.”
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, the charity was “extremely concerned”.
“We urge the Government not to waste the chance to protect the health of future generations. Slickly designed tobacco packaging tempts children towards this fatal habit. Over 200,000 children take up smoking every year and one in two long term smokers are killed by their addiction.
“Plain packaging won’t stop everyone from smoking but it will give millions of children one less reason to start. We must put the health of children ahead of the profits of the tobacco industry.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: “For a Whitehall source to say that improving public health and reducing premature mortality is no longer one of the Government’s key purposes is shocking.
“Smoking remains the major preventable cause of death and disability and measures to reduce smoking prevalence are popular and effective. Over 60 per cent of the public support standard packaging for cigarette packs.
“It will take a lot of explanation if this crucial public health measure is not included in the Queen’s speech on 8 May.”
Last April, the Government launched a consultation on plans to introduce mandatory standardised packaging for tobacco products.
Health experts have welcomed the proposal, but opponents claimed it would lead to increased smuggling and job losses.
Information generated by the consultation, which closed in August, is still being analysed by health officials.
In December, Australia became the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in uniform packs.
Cigarette packets and other products are all sold in a standardised colour, with only the brand name and graphic warnings visible.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, added: “The time has surely now come for the UK Government to stop dithering on this issue and follow the example set by their Scottish counterparts. Using expensively-designed packaging to sell cigarettes to young people is wrong and should be stopped.”
Copyright Press Association 2013