The UK Government is contemplating a proposal to introduce plain cigarette packaging across England in 2016, with MPs expected to vote before May’s general election.
This follows the introduction of a law in Australia forcing cigarettes to be sold in plain olive-green packaging with images depicting the damaging effects of smoking, Reuters reported.
The proposed regulations will require standardisation of packaging of all cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco for retail sale.
The new law, when put into force, will permit only specified text, such as the brand and variant name, and will make sure any permitted text conforms to particular requirements.
Retail cigarette packaging must also be of mandatory colours, such as dull brown for the outside and white for the inside; however, required markings, such as health warnings and fiscal marks, will remain in place.
UK Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: "Smoking remains one of our most significant public health challenges. It is a major cause of cancer, heart and respiratory disease, and almost 80,000 people in England alone die every year from ill health caused by smoking. It places an enormous strain on the NHS.
"Having considered all the evidence, the Secretary of State and I believe that the policy is a proportionate and justified response to the considerable public health harm from smoking tobacco. The Chief Medical Officer has confirmed this view.
"I now propose that we lay regulations for standardised packaging in this parliament to allow for them to come into force at the same time as the European Tobacco Products Directive in May 2016. In doing so, we would be bringing the prospect of our first smoke-free generation one step closer."
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will also need to consent to the legislation introduced in England.
The European Tobacco Products Directive will introduce various tobacco control measures, including larger picture health warnings and a ban on flavourings, including menthol, as well as packaging controls to combat illicit trade.
Tobacco firms, though, have criticised the move saying plain packs infringe on intellectual property rights and the new law will increase cigarette counterfeiting and smuggling.
Since Australia introduced the plain packaging in 2013, a 3.4% drop in smoking was recorded for 2013, compared with 2012, according to Treasury Department data.
Image: UK to consider adoption of plain packaging for cigarettes. Photo: courtsey of hinnamsaisuy via Freedigitalphotos.