The government is expected to launch its consultation on whether to force all tobacco products into plain packs on Monday.
In an interview with The Times, health secretary Andrew Lansley argued that “health ministers across the UK have a responsibility to look closely at initiatives that might encourage smokers to quit and stop young people taking up smoking in the first place”.
He added: “Through the forthcoming consultation, we want to hear as many views as possible about whether tobacco packaging should remain unchanged, plain packaging should be adopted or a different option should be considered.”
The move comes just a week after a ban on the display of tobacco products came into force for large stores in England. Lansley told the newspaper that although he was open-minded, he believed attractive packaging helped recruit smokers from a young age.
The industry was quick to set out its opposition to the plans.
“Tobacco packaging has never been identified as a reason why people start to smoke or continue to smoke,” said Imperial Tobacco UK general manager Amal Pramanik. “Our trademarks are protected by law and we have a fundamental right to differentiate our brands from those of our competitors.”
Palmer & Harvey marketing director Richard Hayhoe said plain packs would be particularly damaging to small shops.
“Tobacco makes up a quarter of sales in the average convenience store and the proposed move to plain packaging could tip some shops over the edge,” he argued.
“Why? Because plain packaging make life much easier for counterfeiters and criminal gangs, taking tobacco sales from legitimate, hardworking shopkeepers and shifting them to the black market. “
Australia is set to become the first country to introduce plain packaging for tobacco at the end of this year, although the move is subject to a legal challenge by manufacturers.