As Ministers propose a ban on displaying tobacco in shops and the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes, Matthew Cain says the moves will tackle the ‘last bastion’ of branding.
Displays will have to be kept under the counter in shops in England from April 2012 for large stores, and from April 2015 for smaller shops.
A consultation will also be launched on whether manufacturers should be forced to put cigarettes into plain packets.
The strategy – unveiled on No Smoking Day – sets out “national ambitions” to reduce smoking rates from 21.2 per cent to 18.5 per cent by the end of 2015, with specific targets for pregnant women and 15-year-olds.
Andrew Lansley said he wanted to see the numbers falling faster in the next five years than they had in the past five.
He said: “We want to do everything we can to help people to choose to stop smoking and encourage young people not to start smoking in the first place. We will help local communities to take a comprehensive approach to reducing smoking so we can change social attitudes to smoking.”
Signalling an emerging political consensus on the issue, shadow public health minister Diane Abbott said she welcomed the moves, adding they were “building on” what Labour had done through its anti-smoking legislation, including the ban on smoking in public places and on the advertising of tobacco products.
The design of the packaging is currently the last bastion of branding for cigarettes, writes our Culture Editor, Matthew Cain.
Gone are the hilariously camp adverts of the 60s and 70s which portrayed passionate smokers chuffing away on their favourite brands. Gone too are the more cryptic ads that replaced them, when tobacco companies were banned from showing anyone actually smoking and instead developed a heavily stylised, almost surreal, way of communicating with their customers.
Even sports sponsorship, which for years characterised our experience of Grand Prix events in particular, has been outlawed over the last decade. So what's left? Just the packaging. And maybe not for much longer.
Read Matthew Cain's blog - Dissuading teenage smokers: can the plain pack work?
However, Tory backbencher Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, led a muted rebellion calling the plan a “gesture politics of the worst kind” and would represent a “triumph for the nanny state.”
A number of countries, including Canada, Ireland, Iceland and Finland, have already introduced similar bans. Australia is to follow soon.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) described the measures as “a victory for public health”.
BHF spokeswoman Betty McBride said: “Though we’re slightly disappointed the display ban is being delayed, it will help prevent the industry from marketing their products to children and will go a long way to helping young people avoid a lifetime of addiction and health problems.”
“The introduction of plain packaging would complement the ban and signal the end of slick, colourful designs used as silent salesmen” she continued.
A betrayal of our nation of shopkeepers. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents
Martin Dockrell, of the campaign group Ash, also praised the government for its plans, saying there was “strong evidence” they would stop people taking up smoking.
On banning shop displays, he said: “Regular smokers know what brand they smoke before they go into the shop and don’t need a display to remind them. In truth, these displays promote brands to new young smokers and they trigger sales to people who did not intend to buy.”
But industry groups have reacted with anger, the Tobacco Manufacturers Association said there was “no credible evidence” a display ban would stop teenagers smoking.