Row grows over cigarette packaging
A bitter row is growing over Government moves to strip cigarette packets of branding.
Health campaigners welcomed plans for plain packaging on tobacco products in a bid to cut smoking, but opponents claimed the proposals would lead to increased smuggling and job losses.
As the Government prepared to launch a public consultation on Monday, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Health ministers across the UK have a responsibility to look closely at initiatives that might encourage smokers to quit and stop young people from taking up smoking in the first place.
"Through the forthcoming consultation we want to hear as many views as possible about whether tobacco packing should remain unchanged, plain packaging should be adopted or a different option should be considered."
However Conservative MP Mark Field said plain packaging would "create a dangerous precedent for the future of commercial free speech".
Writing on the ConservativeHome website, he said: "Plain packaging will result in other sorts of negative impacts, including the increased health threat posed by counterfeit tobacco, the encouragement of smuggled products and damaging competition.
"Indeed, the Treasury is already losing around £3 billion a year from tobacco that has evaded UK duty; criminal gangs operating a contraband supply chain at the expense of legitimate businesses. All of this could result in a potential loss of investment and jobs that goes way beyond the tobacco manufacturing sector."
The Association of Convenience Stores, which represents Britain's corner shops, vowed to fight such moves.
Chief executive James Lowman said: "This would create further regulatory burdens on thousands of businesses. If every tobacco product looks the same it will be much harder for retailers and their staff to locate products on the shelf. This will slow down service times, affect customer service and make stock management harder."
But Deborah Arnott, chief executive of campaigning charity Action on Smoking and Health, welcomed the plan, saying: "Now cigarette advertising, promotion and sponsorship and tobacco displays have all been banned this is the obvious next step if the Government truly wants to make smoking history. Cigarettes are not like sweets or toys and should not be sold in fancy colourful packaging which makes them appealing to children."