Health warning move stubbed out

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A move to increase dramatically the size of health warnings on cigarette packets failed in the Commons yesterday after being dismissed by a health minister as unlikely to deter smokers.

The Labour MP Terry Lewis's Tobacco Products Labelling Bill would have increased the area of the warning from the present 6 per cent of the face of a pack to 25 per cent. But though the measure had cross-party support there were insufficient MPs present to close the debate and it was easily "talked out" by Conservative backbenchers.

Richard Alexander, MP for Newark, condemned it as another swipe at the tobacco industry and claimed smoking "in moderation" did no harm to anyone. The Bill would also have required the warnings to be in more striking form - black lettering on a white background or vice versa. Though the message "Smoking Kills" is plain enough, its impact can be blunted by appearing in the same colour lettering as the brand name, MPs were told.

Mr Lewis, MP for Worsley and a life-long non-smoker, read out a long list of supporting organisations including royal medical colleges and cancer research groups. More than 111,000 people died prematurely from tobacco-related diseases each year, he said.

But Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary for Health, said the Bill went "far beyond what is sensibly required" on packets.