Edwin Poots urged to take lead over plain cigarette packages
Health Minister Edwin Poots has been urged to "take the lead" and push forward legislation introducing plain cigarette packages in Northern Ireland.
Angry campaigners and politicians have spoken out after Westminster announced it is not introducing standardised, unbranded packaging.
Instead it will keep the policy "under review".
But health charities have hit out at the lack of action and say more lives will be lost by any delay.
One warned that since August 2012, when consultation ended, more than 9,000 children in the province started smoking.
Earlier this year the Republic of Ireland announced it will be the first country in Europe to require cigarettes to be sold in plain packs.
The Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh governments have stated their support for the policy.
Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association Andrew Dougal said pressure needed to be placed on Prime Minister David Cameron. He said: "I'd urge the minister Edwin Poots (right), if it is feasible, to take the lead on this.
"I think if the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland health ministers co-operate on this it would be a great triumph for the regional assemblies to take the lead."
Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention at Cancer Focus, said the packaging of tobacco products remained one of the last overt forms of tobacco promotion allowed in the UK.
He added: "The public consultation on plain packs concluded in August 2012 and since then over 9,000 children in NI have started smoking.
"We demand legislation that will protect our young people from seductive, highly branded, brightly coloured packs designed to glamorise tobacco."
Pro-smoking group Forest, however, said there was no credible evidence packaging had an impact on youth smoking rates.
Alliance MLA and Stormont health committee member Kieran McCarthy said he'd support plain packaging for cigarettes..
Health Minister Mr Poots said he was "supportive" of measures leading to a reduction in smoking.
But the DUP MLA added that: "Ideally, I would like to see a UK-wide approach taken to this issue."
STORY SO FAR
In December 2012 Australia became the first nation to ban logos and other advertising on cigarette packs to make smoking less appealing. The Republic of Ireland will be the first country in Europe to require cigarettes to be sold in plain packs. It is thought this will be introduced by 2014. It was the first country to stop smoking in bars and restaurants with a workplace ban in 2004.