'Clock ticking' over tobacco packs
Almost 80,000 children have taken up smoking while health officials have considered whether or not to introduce plain packs for cigarettes, campaigners have said.
Brightly coloured packages are one of the last marketing ploys that tobacco companies use to lure people to their products, according to a coalition of health organisations.
In April last year, the Government launched a consultation on plans to introduce mandatory standardised packaging for tobacco products. Health campaigners have welcomed the proposal, but opponents claimed it would lead to increased smuggling and job losses.
Information generated by the consultation, which closed in August, is still being analysed by health officials.
The Smokefree Action Coalition said that in the six months the officials have been considering the responses to the consultation, 78,500 children have taken up smoking - an estimated 430 every day. The coalition, made up of various health organisations including the British Medical Association, medical royal colleges, charities and academic institutions, has called upon ministers to publish the results of its consultation.
In December, Australia became the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in standardised packs. Cigarette packs and other products are all sold in a standardised colour, with only the brand name and graphic warnings visible.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health, said: "The evidence is clear that heavily branded, brightly coloured packs are attractive to children. It's been six months since the consultation closed and the clock is ticking.
"Every day, hundreds more children take up smoking - children who need protecting from tobacco industry marketing. The Government must commit now to legislation to put all tobacco products in standard packs."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We have received many thousands of responses to the tobacco packaging consultation. We are currently in the process of carefully collating and analysing all the responses received.
"The Government has an open mind on this issue and any decisions to take further action will be taken only after full consideration of the consultation responses, evidence and other relevant information."