Cigarette packs

An example selection of currently available tobacco packs

We’re extremely pleased to announce that shiny, brightly coloured cigarette packs are closer to becoming a thing of the past.

Yesterday evening MPs in the House of Commons overwhelmingly agreed that they want to see standardised packaging for tobacco products in the UK.

We’ve been calling for the chance to let Parliament decide and now, given the chance, both Houses have been decisive: at last night’s vote on the Children and Families Bill standard packs were supported by 453 MPs, with only 24 opposed.

What next?

Standardised packs won’t be brought in overnight. There’s still more to do but we’re within touching distance of a major victory for public health.

The next step – which will happen by March 21 – is for the Queen to give the Royal Assent to allow the bill to be made law.

But that’s not the end.

The government is also awaiting the outcome of an Independent Review of the public health evidence for standardised packaging, due to report in March.

The government will then look at the conclusions of the review and decide if it’s satisfied that standard packs will have a positive health impact for under-18s and what to do next. The review is also considering the wider issues of standard packs, such as the impact on illegal tobacco. (We’ve written before that standard packs won’t encourage smuggling.)

The final hurdle – regulations

If the government decides to press on, regulations would then be drawn up and voted on by both the House of Lords and House of Commons. This process is likely to take quite a few months.

We don’t know exactly how long this could take, but we want to see the regulations (also known as secondary legislation) finalised by the General Election, meaning we could have standard packs on the shelves in 2015-16.

A comprehensive tobacco control programme

Standard packaging was not the only amendment to be considered on Monday. We’re delighted the bill will also include:

  • Powers to introduce regulations to prohibit the sale of nicotine products (i.e. e-cigarettes) to persons under 18 – making it an offence to do so.
  • An amendment to make the purchase of tobacco etc. on behalf of people under 18 an offence (also known as “proxy purchasing”).
  • Powers to introduce regulations to make smoking in a private vehicle where minors are present (more usually known as “smoking in cars with children”) an offence.

Almost there

When Australia became the first country in the world to introduce standard packs in December 2012, the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for standard packs to become a ‘success of the world’.

For our public health ambitions, this marks a moment in which the UK is seen globally as a champion of tobacco control and an example of what bold action can be taken to prevent the burden of disease for future generations.

With the WHO warning of a cancer ‘tidal wave’, action on prevention is a must, not an option – the evidence for standardised packaging to reduce the appeal of the leading cause of preventable death is clear.

It isn’t over yet but yesterday’s success gives us a good excuse to say a big thank you to all our supporters – outside and inside Parliament – who have made this progress possible.