* Government says yet to make a decision on plain packaging
* Health groups 'deeply disappointed' by delay on new laws
By William James
LONDON, May 8 The British government is still
considering banning company branding on cigarette packets even
though it omitted proposals from its legislative agenda laid out
in parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron said.
Britain had looked set to become the first European country
to force cigarette makers to use plain packaging, a step opposed
by the tobacco industry, which sees it as harming their profits.
Queen Elizabeth made no reference to the plans in a speech
setting out the government's legislative plans for the year
ahead, drawing criticism from opposition lawmakers and
disappointment from anti-smoking groups.
However, Cameron told parliament that the government was
still looking at the issue.
The Department of Health held four months of consultations
last year to gather evidence on whether standardised tobacco
packaging would discourage young smokers and help existing
smokers ditch the habit.
"This an important decision and we make no apology for
taking time to get it right. We are closely watching what is
happening around the world," a department spokesperson said.
Last year, Australia implemented a law saying cigarettes
must be sold in olive green packets carrying graphic health
Cuba, whose luxury cigars are world renowned and feature
distinctive packages, launched a challenge against the
Australian law at the World Trade Organisation last week.
Despite its absence from the government's plans, the leader
of the opposition Labour Party offered to help speed through any
"If he wants the bill on cigarette packaging, we'll help him
get it through," Ed Miliband said. "It's the right thing to do
for public health, it's the right thing to do for the country."
Miliband also questioned the role of government adviser
Lynton Crosby in the decision, saying his consultancy firm had
worked with tobacco companies.
A spokesman for David Cameron said Crosby had no influence
over the contents of the Queen's speech.
Campaign groups wrote to Health Minister Jeremy Hunt
expressing disappointment over the omission of the plan from the
"The failure to bring forward legislation fatally undermines
the Government's credibility on public health issues," said the
letter from the Smokefree Action Coalition, an alliance of more
than 100 health organisations.
Companies such as Philip Morris and British American
Tobacco fear that plain packaging would eat into sales
of higher margin brands and say it would encourage the global
black market in tobacco.
Imperial Tobacco shares have risen marginally since
reports circulated in the British media that Cameron had dropped