The government has been urged to speed up the plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging. Campaigners are warning that time is becoming short for them to take action before the general election.
In excess of 600 medical professionals have joined forces in writing to the British Medical Journal to call on ministers to publish the draft regulations as soon as possible.
The Department of Health has stated that a final consultation is due to commence shortly. However, Labour said that there was no excuse for further delay.
After an independent report that plain cigarette packaging would have a positive impact on stopping children from starting the habit and on public health, ministers agreed, in principle, to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.
The government stated then that it hoped to publish the draft regulations about the manner in which it would be enforced by the end of April. However, two months have passed without any progress.
The letter from the group of health workers stated that there was not much time left for the production of the draft regulations if it is to be voted on prior to the election next May.
They stated that it will be necessary for the government to notify the European Union of these regulations and this could take up to half a year. They further added that time is running out to tackle this cause of preventable deaths in the UK.
The Department of Health responded by saying that the consultation terms, which should take six weeks, were in the final stages and will be published shortly.
It is believed that the announcement of the regulations was not done in May due to the ‘purdah period’ placed on major policy announcements during the council and European elections.
Labour stated that ministers were avoiding the setting of a timetable for this regulation despite the overwhelming evidence that it would be of benefit to public health. Shadow Health Minister, Luciana Berger, said that government should move forward the regulation that it promised months ago.
Forest, the organisation which campaigns for the rights of smokers, stated that the government was correct in taking its time. The lobby group’s director, Simon Clark, said that if consultation on the regulations is to hold any meaning, ministers need to keep an open mind. He said that a decision on the introduction of standard cigarette packaging must indicate hard evidence that it will stop children from smoking. He further added that subjective opinions and conjecture are not enough and that is all that has been seen thus far.
The packaging will be applicable to England and Wales. Scotland already has plans in the offing to introduce the plain packaging, and Northern Ireland has indicated that it will follow any ban.
The first country to pilot standardised packaging during December 2012 was Australia. The Republic of Ireland was the first in Europe to try it and pass a law for the removal of all trademark and logo colours on cigarette packaging.
Image Credit: Eli Duke