* Government wants to ban branded cigarette packaging
* Such a move "highly likely" to cut child smoking -report
* New rules could be law by 2015, subject to final decision
(Recasts, adds fresh reaction)
By William James and Martinne Geller
LONDON, April 3 Britain plans to force tobacco
firms to sell cigarettes in plain packets without branding to
improve public health and cut the number of child smokers, a
government minister said on Thursday, dismaying the industry and
delighting anti-smoking campaigners.
The government said it wanted to leave space on cigarette
packaging only for graphic health warnings, after holding a
short final consultation on the issue, and said the rule could
become law within a year.
The move would make Britain the second country in the world
and the first in Europe to introduce mandatory plain cigarette
packets, which could prompt others to follow suit.
In 2012, Australia enacted a groundbreaking law forcing
cigarettes to be sold in plain olive green packaging with images
showing damaging effects of smoking such as lung and mouth
Tobacco is responsible for 6 million deaths a year and the
World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that number could rise
beyond 8 million by 2030.
As well as causing cancer and other chronic respiratory
conditions, smoking is also a major contributor to
cardiovascular diseases, the world's No. 1 killer.
Jane Ellison, a junior British minister responsible for
public health, said draft regulations and the results of a short
consultation would be published as early as this month allowing
enough time for the government to bring in new laws before an
election in May 2015.
The government said a review it had commissioned in November
threw up compelling evidence that plain packaging would raise
public health and reduce the incidence of child smokers.
"It is in my view highly likely that standardised packaging
would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking,"
said Cyril Chantler, a 74-year-old paediatrician and ex-smoker
who conducted the review. "The evidence base is modest and it
has limitations, but it points in a single direction, and I am
not aware of any evidence pointing the other way."
Moves to ban branding on cigarette packets to make them less
appealing to smokers, and above all children, have pitted
tobacco producers against governments and anti-smoking lobbyists
around the globe.
New Zealand and Ireland also plan to introduce plain
packaging while five countries have lodged a complaint with the
World Trade Organisation to try to overturn Australia's laws.
Britain's opposition Labour Party welcomed steps towards a
ban on branded cigarette packets, but criticised the
Conservative-led government for delaying a final decision by
holding a consultation.
"Over 70,000 children will have taken up smoking since the
government announced the review," Labour health spokeswoman
Luciana Berger told parliament. "How many more children are
going to take up smoking before this government takes firm and
TOBACCO SHARES DROP
After Thursday's government statement, shares in the two big
London-listed tobacco concerns, Imperial Tobacco and
British American Tobacco, dropped by about 0.5 percent.
Britain's tobacco market is worth about $28 billion a year,
according to Euromonitor International, and Britain collected
8.6 billion pounds ($14.24 billion) in cigarette duty last year.
Chantler said in the report he believed that over time, the
prevalence of smoking would fall as a result of restrictions on
the size and shape of packages and bans on branding and
The industry argues that plain packaging encroaches on its
intellectual property and trade marks, and limits trade. It also
says that there is no fact-based evidence that the move would
reduce smoking - an argument Chantler acknowledges.
Tobacco firms have further argued that plain packaging would
encourage counterfeiting and smuggling.
"The government should not rush to proceed without holding
the full impact assessment they have promised," Philip Morris
said in a statement. "Plain packaging has failed to cut
smoking rates, has not deterred youth smokers and has been
accompanied by a dramatic growth of the black market."
British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco group issued
Britain already has strict regulations on how cigarettes can
be displayed and packaged, as well as a ban on smoking in public
places. Earlier this year, the government prohibited smoking in
cars when children were present.
A ban on cigarette branding in Britain will probably crimp
industry profits, Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham said, since
plain, standardised packages are less likely to command high
prices. Japan Tobacco would be hardest hit with
Imperial Tobacco and discount brands picking up some market
($1 = 0.6012 British pounds)
(Additional reporting by Kate Holton and Kate Kelland; Editing
by Mark Heinrich)