'Cigarette packaging ban by 2015'
The Government is expected to announce tomorrow that cigarettes are to be sold in plain packaging by 2015.
It was reported tonight that the Prime Minister is going to ban branded cigarette cartons, having originally decided last July not to proceed with the plans.
In the summer the Government said it was waiting to see how plain packaging worked in Australia, which introduced the measures a year ago, before making any changes. It has since maintained it is monitoring the situation.
The Times said tonight that plain-packaged cigarettes will be in shops before the next election, following another Government review of the situation in Australia.
It is expected to report back in March and support the case for changing packaging, according to the newspaper.
The Department of Health would not comment on tonight's reports, other than to say that an announcement would be made tomorrow.
Labour is in favour of the anti-smoking measure and has accused the Tories of ''bringing big tobacco to the heart of Downing Street'' by hiring lobbyist Lynton Crosby as a key election adviser. Mr Crosby denies having ''any conversation or discussion'' with Prime Minister David Cameron on the issue.
Shadow public health minister Luciana Berger tonight urged the Government to act now, rather than await the results of its review.
She said: " We need immediate legislation for standard cigarette packaging, not another review. The Government needs to stand up to the tobacco industry's vested interests.
"The evidence to support standardised packaging is clear. The consensus is overwhelming. We don't need any further delay while 570 children are lighting up for the first time every day."
Health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) has hailed the expected announcement.
Chief executive Deborah Arnott said: "This decision is a victory for public health, for common sense and for future generations who will as a result be protected from glitzy, colourful and misleading tobacco packaging.
"The Government should be given due credit for being willing to listen to parliament and to the experts and change its mind.
"We understand the need for a review of the evidence and we are pleased that this will be carried out with the necessary speed to ensure that it reports early in the Spring. This Sunday is the anniversary of standardised packaging being put in place in Australia and the positive impact it has made is becoming clearer every day."
It is expected that all tobacco products would look the same under the reforms, while anti-smoking and pro-health messages would be promoted instead.
Conservative backbencher Bob Blackman warned earlier this month that if regulations to introduce plain packaging were not brought in by Christmas, the Government could face the prospect of an MPs' vote.
The Harrow East MP said there was adequate evidence from the Department of Health to support standardised packaging and that tobacco control should be treated as a high priority.
He told the Commons: " 'We want to remove the last aspects of advertising that the tobacco industry has. At the moment there is still an attractive promotional aspect of tobacco, which is the packaging.
''What we want to see is that all tobacco packs would be uniform, including the colour of the pack and allow the promotion of very strong anti-smoking and pro-health messages.
''The evidence is emerging from Australia. However, other parts of the globe are already going ahead with standardisation of packaging, including in Ireland.''
Health minister Jane Ellison said at the time that even if standardised packaging was introduced today, discussions would still be needed to discuss how to stop children smoking.
S he said: ''I think there's a slight danger that, by focusing only on this aspect of tobacco control, we also forget there are other things we can do and there are more things we could do.''
Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "This could potentially be a very disappointing U-turn by the Government.
"Plain packaging will have a negligible impact on health, will boost the black market, and do enormous harm to small businesses.
"In the words of David Cameron, let's treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their own lives.
"It's about time the Government looked towards education rather than even heavier regulation of a legal product enjoyed by millions of ordinary consumers."
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: "The Government with the number of its recent U-turns must be getting mighty dizzy, but this is one very much to be welcomed, since it finally points it in the right direction.
"Back in July there were concerns about the role of Lynton Crosby, tobacco industry lobbyist, in the Government's decision-making about plain packets for cigarettes.
"We can definitely see the influence of Lynton Crosby, election adviser, in this reversal.
"Now we can only hope for a related U-turn, on another important public health issue - the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol."