From 2016 every packet of cigarettes will look the same, with graphic photos accompanying health warnings and the only distinguishing features being the cigarette make and brand name.
This move has been welcomed by many across the health sector and saw 367 MPs vote in favour of standardised packaging with just 113 against it. The free vote also coincided with No Smoking Day (11 March 2015), the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF’s) key campaign to encourage one million smokers to attempt to quit.
The government first announced in 2011 it would be considering standardised packaging and ran a consultation in 2012. However, ministers then seemed to go off the plan which prompted accusations that it had been influenced by the tobacco industry. Afterwards another review of the public health benefits was ordered and it was concluded last year that it was very likely the change in packaging would lead to a modest but important reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking.
Currently more than 600 children aged 11 to 15 start to smoke every day. Which is more than 200,000 a year. The review said if that number could be cut even by 2%, 4,000 fewer would take up the habit.
Research has also shown that standardised packaging and darker colours (such as the proposed olive green) makes the packets less appealing and helps reinforce health messages.
British Lung Foundation chief executive Simon Gillespie, said: “This is a landmark victory that will go a long way to reducing smoking rates, improving the nation’s health and saving thousands of lives.”
Earlier this month the Irish Republic introduced a similar law and Australia has had plain packaging since 2012. At the other side of the world, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare say smoking rates for people aged 14 and over fell from 15.1% to 12.8% between 2010 and 2013, and for people aged 18 and over the figures dropped from 15.9% to 13.3%. However, these statistics also support the continued long-term trend of declining smoking rates prevalent in most developed countries.
With this in mind, we now just have to wait for the House of Lords to see if they decide to give this legislation the final parliamentary stamp of approval.