Mandatory plain-packaging for cigarettes has been a contentious issue within the Conservative Party.
Whilst it has been praised by health campaigners for some time, many Conservative MPs are against the proposal.
Smoking has long been recognised as a major contributor to preventable deaths, with cancer, respiratory and heart disease all associated with the habit. Jane Ellison, the public health minister, claims that smoking causes 80 000 preventable deaths in the UK each year, and imposes huge costs on the NHS. She also claims that widespread habitual smoking limits our ability to battle cancer.
Ellison argues that plain packaging for cigarettes should help to limit their appeal, and that this is an appropriate response to the significant public health issue of smoking.
Particularly important is discouraging children from picking up the habit, and it is this which Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, believes plain packaging will help. Whilst smoking rates are in decline, the habit remains, according to her, “the single biggest cause of preventable mortality.”
David Cameron has announced that a vote on the implementation of plain packaging will happen before the General Election in May of this year. This comes after Cameron seemed to shut down the prospect of plain packaging in 2013, after he claimed that more evidence was needed before it could be considered. With many of his own MPs against the prospect, the vote could incur a party rebellion in the final weeks before the general election.
The shadow health secretary, Luciana Berger, praised the opportunity to depart from the ‘glitzy appeal’ of current cigarette packaging, whilst UKIP leader Nigel Farage described such controls as “an appalling intrusion into consumer choice and the operation of the free market”.
Simon Clark, a representative from the pro-smoking lobbying group Forest, claimed that a similar move in Australia had had “no discernible impact” on smoking habits. However campaigners like the British Lung Foundation maintain that plain packaging will deter children and young people from starting the habit.