Tobacco companies could be forced to sell cigarettes in grey or brown plain packaging to try to deter young people from taking up smoking.
Ministers are considering switching all brand packs to a standard colour so bright packages will not lure prospective young smokers.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said colourful packs were widely accepted as the last form of marketing available for tobacco companies to recruit new smokers.
The plain packs would show only basic information and health and picture warnings.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “The evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers, so it makes sense to consider having less attractive packaging.
“It's wrong that children are being attracted to smoke by glitzy packets. We would prefer it if people did not smoke and adults will still be able to buy cigarettes, but children should be protected.”
Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) called for Mr Lansley to set a date for the change.