Government targets cigarette packaging

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Tobacco companies may be forced to sell cigarettes in plain packaging as part of a raft of measures designed to halve the number of smokers in England by 2020.



Health Secretary Andy Burnham today pledged to cut the number of smokers from a fifth (21 per cent) of the population to one in 10 (10 per cent) in the next 10 years.

The target would mean around four million of England's estimated eight million smokers quitting.

The Government also hopes to cut the estimated 200,000 young people who start smoking every year.

Mr Burnham said: "Most smokers start before they are 18, so we have to discourage children and young people from ever starting.

"Now that we've banned advertising and will soon see an end to attractive displays in shops, the only remaining method of advertising tobacco is the packaging. So we will carefully consider whether there is evidence for making tobacco companies use plain packets."

Plain packs would just show the brand name in text.

The Government today pledged to encourage research to further understanding of the possible links between tobacco packaging and smoking behaviours.

Mr Burnham added: "Government should and will do everything in its power to protect young people. This includes putting a stop to cheap tobacco that is smuggled into the country by organised criminal gangs."

He said smokers "should never stop trying" to quit and Government would always help them.

"One day, in the not too distant future, we'll look back and find it hard to remember why anyone ever smoked in the first place," he said.

Mr Burnham said the Government had made "massive progress" in the past decade in cutting the number of smokers and would now "go even further".

"Today's strategy renews our commitment to virtually eradicate the health harms caused by smoking, and I firmly believe we can halve smoking by 2020."

The commitments announced today include:

* A review of the law to consider if areas like entrances to buildings should be included in the smoking ban as part of further measures to protect children which would include the promotion of smoke-free homes and cars.

* Stopping the sale of tobacco from vending machines, considered a significant source of tobacco for young people.

* Immediate investment in extra overseas officers to stop 200 million illicit cigarettes entering the UK every year.

* NHS support for every smoker who wants to give up, at times and in places that suit them.

* Government consideration of the case for plain packaging for cigarettes.

The Department of Health said 337,000 people stopped smoking last year with the help of free support from the NHS and the number of smokers fell by a quarter in the past decade.

In 2007 more than 80,000 deaths and 1.4 million hospital admissions were attributed to smoking and the habit costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said: "We must keep pushing hard for a tobacco free future and keep up the momentum gained by England going smoke-free in 2007.

"Since then, the number of people who have given up smoking has increased, so this new strategy and targeted support will help smokers who want to quit, to give up for good.

"It will also discourage children from taking up smoking and prevent a great number of unnecessary and early deaths."

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, said halving the number of smokers by 2020 will require even more laws and "will further erode our ability to choose how we wish to live our lives".

He said the government has introduced "some of the most draconian anti-smoking laws in the world" and added: "In an allegedly free society, this is nothing to be proud of."

Mr Clark said Forest was concerned that existing legislation may be extended to prohibit smoking in outdoor areas.

"The current smoking ban, which has had a devastating impact on community pubs and clubs, is out of all proportion to the harm allegedly caused by second-hand smoke. Further restrictions will only accelerate that trend."

Mr Clark said Forest supports "reasonable efforts" to stop young people smoking but said some of the Government's proposals were designed to "denormalise" a legal activity.

"The Health Secretary says he wants to crack down on cheap illicit cigarettes, but at the same time the government says it will consider increases in tobacco duty.

"Don't they understand that one of the reasons Britain has such a problem with illicit cigarettes is because this government has increased tobacco taxation to record levels and that has encouraged criminal gangs and individuals to smuggle millions of cheap cigarettes into the country?"

Mr Clark added: "We accept that some people wish to quit smoking and we therefore welcome the Health Secretary's comment that the NHS is there to help everyone, including smokers.

"What alarms us is that yet again the government fails to recognise that many people choose to smoke and have no intention of giving up."

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