Govt delays cigarette display ban on No Smoking Day

Today is No Smoking Day
Today is No Smoking Day

By Alex Stevenson

The government is to consider introducing plain packaging for tobacco products, but has delayed the implementation of a point-of-sale display ban.

Ministers laid out new plans to clamp down on cigarette packaging as anti-tobacco campaigners marked No Smoking Day.

The ban on displaying tobacco products at the point of sale - introduced by Labour in 2009 - was not set to be implemented until October this year for larger shops like supermarkets and October 2013 for smaller retailers like cornershops and newsagents.


The coalition has pushed back these deadlines to April 2012 and April 2015 respectively, as well as amending the regulations to provide loopholes. "Temporary displays in limited circumstances" are to be permitted.

Attempts to challenge the regulations through judicial review by tobacco lobbyists are believed to be behind the delay, campaigners told politics.co.uk.

"Smoking affects the health of smokers and their families. My ambition is to reduce smoking rates faster over the next five years than has been achieved in the past five years," health secretary Andrew Lansley said.

"We want to do everything we can to help people to choose to stop smoking and encourage young people not to start smoking in the first place. We will help local communities to take a comprehensive approach to reducing smoking so we can change social attitudes to smoking."

The government aims to cut smoking among adults in England from 21.5% to 18.5% by 2015, accelerating the reductions seen in the last five years.

Mr Lansley followed through his previous concerns about tobacco products' packaging, highlighted in the new government's public health white paper, by announcing a consultation on plain packaging.

Chief medical officer Sally Davies said: "I welcome the commitment by the government to look further at tobacco packaging and to consider whether a requirement for plain packaging might bring additional public health benefits, all of which keep up the essential momentum needed to create a truly smokefree future."

A statement from the Department of Health said the government had an "open mind" on the issue and would not make a further assessment of its options until the end of the year.

The move will prompt stern opposition from tobacco campaigners, who are demanding a consultation and regulatory impact assessment.

"We do not believe any plans for plain packaging are based on sound public policy, nor any compelling evidence," Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, said yesterday.

He argued that preventing tobacco companies from exercising their intellectual property rights would place the government in breach of legal obligations relating to intellectual property, international trade and European law.

"Plain packs are also likely to lead to yet further increases in the smuggling of tobacco products and plain packs would make it so much easier for a counterfeiter to copy than existing branded packs making it even more difficult for a consumer to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit products," Mr Ogden added.

The opposition broadly welcomed today's news, but expressed concerns that the government may yet renege on its promises.

"I welcome the fact that after expressing doubts in opposition, the Tories have finally seen the error of their ways and are now implementing Labour's proposals," shadow public health minister Diane Abbott said.

"But given the dither and confusion we have seen to date there remains widespread concern that the advances we made in smoking policy may now be coming to a halt."

Over eight million people smoke in England. Smoking causes 80,000 deaths every year.

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