The British government is a step closer to following Australia’s lead and introducing plain packaging for cigarettes after the health minister said she was “minded” to proceed with the policy.
The UK government announced in late 2013 it would likely introduce plain packs after examining how the change affected smoking rates in Australia.
That review is now in with Sir Cyril Chantler concluding that “branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption”.
The leading pediatrician visited Australia in March to study how banning brands in late 2012 had changed smoking habits.
Sir Cyril said the Australian example didn’t constitute a trial on the impact of plain packs because a number of things happened together, including tax rises.
“Disentangling and evaluating these will take years, not months,” he wrote.
But the expert stressed other research and studies meant he was confident in his conclusion.
“The evidence base is modest, and it has its limitations, but it points in a single direction and I am not aware of any evidence pointing the other way.”
Sir Cyril said it was notable that Japan Tobacco International attempted to sue the Australian government for taking possession of its mobile “billboards”.
He also found there was no evidence of increased counterfeiting following the introduction of plain packs in Australia.
His review team met with British American Tobacco’s Mark Connell who admitted: “One of the things we did say is that there would be an increase in counterfeit of the standardised packaging … (but) that hasn’t happened”.
British Health Minister Jane Ellison on Thursday told parliament Sir Cyril’s review made a compelling case that plain packaging would be “very likely to have a positive impact on public health”.
“I am therefore currently minded to proceed with introducing regulations to provide for standardised packaging,” she said.
However, the government will first publish draft regulations and conduct a final consultation.
Labour’s shadow public health minister Luciana Berger said the announcement of “yet another consultation” amounted to the Tories kicking the issue “into the long grass”.
One of Ms Ellison’s own conservative backbenchers, Sir Gerald Howarth, meanwhile criticised the government for pursuing a “nanny state” agenda.
A Downing Street press briefing was told the government would “consider whether it is possible” for plain packing to be law before the next election due in May 2015.
The issue has provided Prime Minister David Cameron with plenty of headaches over the past 12 months.
In mid-2013 the opposition attacked the Tories for shelving plain packaging after hiring Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby, whose consultancy firm had previously worked for tobacco giant Philip Morris.
It was only after months of criticism that the government backflipped in November by re-committing to its initial plan to ban branding.