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UK aims to pass law to ban cigarette branding

Jan 22 2015 11:00


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London - The British government said on Wednesday it would try to pass a law to force tobacco firms to sell cigarettes in plain packets without branding in England before May, ending years of debate and lobbying over the issue.

The move, aimed at improving public health and cutting the number of child smokers, is likely to crimp tobacco firms' profits and would see Britain follow in the footsteps of Australia, which in 2012 enacted a groundbreaking law forcing cigarettes to be sold in plain olive green packaging with images showing the damaging effects of smoking.

"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," Jane Ellison, a junior minister in the health ministry, said in a statement on Wednesday.

"In doing so we would be bringing the prospect of our first smoke-free generation one step closer."

The government previously said it wanted to ban cigarette branding but that it wanted to conduct a final consultation to make sure it was the right thing to do, stirring suspicion it wanted to further delay legislation.

Ellison said the government had now considered all the evidence and decided it was "a proportionate and justified response."

"Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will need to confirm whether they consent to the regulations applying to those parts of the UK," she said.

The opposition Labour Party welcomed the move, but criticised the government for moving too slowly.

"It was almost a year ago that MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of this measure and the delay is inexcusable," Luciana Berger, the party's health spokesperson said in a statement.

"The Government must now press ahead without delay to ensure that this vital measure is introduced as soon as possible."

Tobacco firms have fiercely resisted the new law, arguing that the new rules would be ineffective and only increase cigarette counterfeiting and smuggling.

The move is opposed by some lawmakers across the political spectrum who believe it amounts to government meddling in people's lives.

The TaxPayers' Alliance, a lobby group for British taxpayers' interests, said the decision to legislate was flawed and could result in a "smugglers' charter."

"This illiberal measure is simply another victory for the nanny state," Jonathan Isaby, its chief executive, said in a statement.

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