Campaigners have branded plain packaging for cigarettes and tobacco products a failure after data from the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) revealed smoking rates have increased since its introduction.

Under new legislation introduced in May 2017, 65% of every tobacco package must be covered by warning messages on the front and back with the aim of discouraging smokers.

However, a year after the initiative kicked off in the UK, the Association’s Smoking Toolkit Study found that smoking rates in England rose to 17.1% in March 2018 from 16.5% in the previous year, when plain packaging had not been fully introduced yet.

The TMA said that a similar effect could be seen in the rest of the UK, with nearly 350,000 more smokers than the year before. Figures from a poll conducted in the past two months also showed that plain packages pushed more smokers to turn to the black market, with 1.9 million UK consumers admitting to having bought untaxed tobacco.

TMA director Giles Roca said that the UK Government should urgently review the ‘failed’ policy, as figures from other countries to have adopted plain packaging, including Australia and France, proved equally disappointing.

He said: “The recent evidence shows that plain packaging appears to be failing in the UK like everywhere it has been introduced.

“It appears not to be delivering the health outcomes it was claimed it would bring while at the same time is proving to be a boon to the black market by encouraging smokers to buy from illicit sources. The government should recognise that plain packaging is failing and undertake a full and immediate review of this policy.”

When plans of adopting plain packages were first announced in the UK, tobacco manufacturers Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, among others, challenged the proposal. However, the complaint was later discharged by the English High Court, while in April 2017 the UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal.