The government has been accused of playing politics with tobacco control legislation after its surprise announcement of a fresh review into plain packaging.
This week, the Department of Health asked Sir Cyril Chantler to undertake an independent review on whether there is likely to be an effect on public health, particularly for children, if standardised packaging were implemented.
Chantler, a leading paediatrician, is set to conclude the review by March. It is to focus mainly on the impact of similar legislation in Australia, which came into force a year ago.
The government will also table an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Lords, enabling it to bring plain packaging in quickly should the review recommend it.
“This is all part of one big political game,” said one leading pro-smoking campaigner.
The government claimed it wanted to wait and gather more evidence, particularly from Australia, before introducing plain packs. But after announcing the delay last July it was accused by Labour and anti-smoking lobbyists of being swayed by the big tobacco manufacturers, after it emerged that the lobbying firm owned by David Cameron’s election strategist Lynton Crosby had previously worked for Philip Morris.
“The real evidence from Australia, which became the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging a year ago, is clear: plain packaging has not had an impact on tobacco consumption but a KPMG report shows there has been an increase in illicit trade,” said Imperial Tobacco.
Angela Harbutt, who ran Forest’s Hands off our Packs campaign said: “Although we think it’s premature, we welcome a further review as long as it considers all the available evidence and is genuinely independent.”
More on this story: Blog - Up in smoke