Plain cigarette pack vote welcomed
Anti-smoking groups and health charities have welcomed a vote by MPs to enforce standardised tobacco packaging, described as the "most important public health reform of this parliament".
The regulations were approved in the House of Commons with a majority of 254 in a landmark free vote and will now pass to the House of Lords on Monday.
If passed, the new rules are expected to take effect from May next year.
Health experts say standardised packaging will make tobacco products less appealing and protect the next generation from taking up the habit.
But plain packaging has been bitterly opposed by many who have protested that it is an example of the nanny state in action and say its health benefits have not been proven.
The powerful tobacco industry has threatened to sue the Government.
Last week Ireland became the first country in Europe to ban branded cigarette packets, but is already facing a legal challenge over claims it infringes trademarks and the free movement of goods across the EU.
Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) c hief executive, Deborah Arnott, said t he Government and other MPs should be "congratulated for resisting the bully-boy tactics and misinformation of the tobacco industry and for implementing the most important public health reform of this parliament".
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: "This is a landmark victory that will go a long way to reducing smoking rates, improving the nation's health and saving thousands of lives.
"This new law will help prevent young people from starting this toxic habit by reducing the appeal of colourful packs.
"Evidence shows that standardised packs are working in Australia to make smoking less attractive and we are delighted it will now be implemented here."
British Lung Foundation chief executive Dr Penny Woods said: "We are simply delighted that the House of Commons has spoken out to protect the 200,000 children taking up smoking every year in this country.
"Our MPs have refused to believe the myths churned out by big tobacco about plain packaging increasing illicit trade - desperate attempts by companies to cling on to corporate profit at the expense of the next generation's lives and lungs.
"With over two-thirds of smokers picking up the deadly habit before the age of 18, we now look to the House of Lords to give this legislation the final parliamentary stamp of approval. The moment tobacco companies are finally denied the right to use glitzy packaging to recruit new smokers will be a moment of celebration for those who care about public health."
Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said: "There are now more than 50 studies looking at the potential impact of plain packaging, conducted in a number of countries. There is also new evidence from Australia where the policy is in place.
"All the evidence suggests that plain packaging will do three things: reduce the appeal of smoking and the pack; reduce confusion about the harm from smoking that the colour, text and images on packaging can convey; and improve how noticeable and visible the health warnings on packs are."
Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, said: "This is a historic decision. It closes off one of the last remaining routes that the tobacco industry uses to promote cigarettes as alluring and exciting and masking the fact that instead they cause illness, death and misery for smokers and their families.
"I congratulate the Government for promoting the public's health and protecting children from the tentacles of the tobacco industry in this way."
James Barge, director of corporate affairs for Philip Morris Limited said the tobacco company would be seeking compensation for the " irrational and unnecessary attack on private property that vilifies products that well-informed adults choose to buy".
"While we respect a government's authority to regulate in the public interest, we and the public expect them to do so based on evidence, taking account of fundamental values such as private property, equal treatment and consumer choice," he said.
"The UK Government is ignoring serious legal issues under UK, European, and international law."
Ukip was also opposed to the move, which the party's deputy leader said "infringes the principle of personal choice".
Paul Nuttall said: "It is wrong that it was just dealt with by a committee and not open to discussion by all MPs on the floor of the House. It is the nanny state at its worst and an affront to democracy to push ahead with legislation without a full reasoned debate.
"Worse still it fails even to deliver what its proponents argue. Plain packaging is bound to lead to an increase in counterfeiting and who knows what toxic substances could be in them, it sends shivers down my spine."