'No excuse' to delay plain cigarette packs after new study, say campaigners

Research among 500 Australian smokers has shown that smokers find cigarettes in plain packs less appealing

There is "no excuse" for Britain not to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes, campaigners have said, after a study found that plain packs made smokers more likely to want to quit.

Ministers last week shelved plans for plain packaging in England, saying they would wait and see what impact a similar scheme would have in Australia, which became the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging at the end of last year.

Now a study of 500 Australian smokers has shown that smokers find cigarettes in plain packs less appealing, and have become 80 per cent more likely to think about quitting at least once a day since the packs, which are a drab olive green and carry large health warnings, were brought in.

The findings will heap pressure on ministers and on Downing Street, which has been forced to deny that the Conservative Party's election strategist, Lynton Crosby, whose lobbying company has worked for tobacco giant Philip Morris, had influenced Government policy. 

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: "This is yet more evidence for the UK Government that standardised cigarette packs work in discouraging smoking…Westminster has absolutely no excuse for delaying legislation to introduce standardised packaging."

The study, which was carried out by the Cancer Society of Victoria and will be published in the British Medical Journal on Tuesday, found that plain pack smokers were 66 per cent more likely to think their cigarettes were of poorer quality than a year ago, 70 per cent more likely to find them less satisfying and also rated quitting as a higher priority in their lives than smokers using branded packs.

"Smokers have been telling us that our new plain packaging and larger graphic health warnings are putting them off," said Australian health minister Tanya Pilbersek.

"And while tobacco companies haven't changed the formula of their products, we've had feedback from smokers saying their cigarettes taste worse since the government's required packaging to be plain."

However, British American Tobacco claimed that there had been "no noticeable impact" on cigarette sales in Australia.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We take very seriously the potential for standardised packaging to reduce smoking rates, but in light of the differing views, we have decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured, and then we will make a decision in England."

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