Under the plans, drawn up last year, cigarette companies would be forced to sell their wares in the same colour boxes, with a uniform font and a striking graphic warning similar to the ones already found on boxes. But ministers have decided to wait it out and continue watching the results of a similar scheme by the Aussies before making a decision.
‘This is an important decision and we make no apology for taking time to get it right,’ said a Department of Health spokesman in response to criticism.
The plan is designed to discourage younger people from taking up smoking - so not surprisingly, Cancer Research UK chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar said today’s decision was a mistake and would cost lives.
‘The government had a choice: protect children from an addiction that kills 100,000 people in the UK every year or protect tobacco industry profits,' he said. 'We believe it has made the wrong choice.’
Apparently, the decision to stall comes from concern about a potential blow to employment. The fact that the tobacco industry makes some £12bn from the tobacco industry must have come up in the dicussions too. A consultation by the Department of Health ended last August but Downing St wants to wait it out. A plain cigarette-packaging scheme was introduced in December 2012 in Australia – making it the first country to do so.
The lifeline to fag branding was welcomed by pro-smokers’ group Forest who said they were ‘delighted’.
‘The government conducted a public consultation on plain packaging in 2012 and half a million people opposed the measure,’ said Angela Harbutt, (wonder if she’s the butt of many jokes. Arf, arf) from Forest's Hands Off Our Packs campaign.
‘Ministers have listened to ordinary people. This is good news for those who believe in consumer freedom and are opposed to excessive regulation.’
Whether the government is protecting customers’ freedom and jobs or the wallets of the tobacco companies remains to be seen (as, indeed, will cigarette logos).