MPs have voted by a majority of 254 in favour of introducing standardised cigarette packaging from May 2016.
The legislation, which is designed to reduce the appeal of cigarettes, was voted for by 367-113, with support from Labour and Liberal Democrats, and opposition from Conservative backbenchers. The House of Lords is expected to approve the regulations on Monday.
The packaging of all cigarettes sold in England will have to uniform in size, shape and design, with only the brand name and graphic health-warning images permitted on the front. A dark colour such as olive green is favoured for the packaging.
The result of the vote makes England the third country to introduce such a law. Ireland introduced similar legislation at the beginning of March and Australia did the same in 2012. Although the vote only applies to England, other regions of the UK have said they will introduce similar legislation.
MPs were given a free vote on the issue, but there was no debate in the Commons beforehand because it is not primary legislation. Powers to introduce standardised packaging were included in the Children and Families Act 2014 and only needed approval from parliament before being introduced.
Harpal Kumar, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, called the vote historic, saying it marked “a strong and clear commitment to the health of future generations”.
“During the last three years we’ve seen the evidence grow about the impact of tobacco packaging,” he said. “Strong support for removing the slick marketing of today’s packs has increased among the public and across the political spectrum. There are around 100,000 people who die from tobacco in the UK every year. Standard packs will help reduce the number of lives blighted by this lethal product and help us move towards a tobacco-free generation.”
Nick de Bois, Conservative MP for Enfield North, who has been a vocal opponent of the law, described the outcome as disappointing but unsurprising.
“What I think the government should still consider, however, is that it would be sensible to delay the implementation of this statute until all outstanding legal issues that could threaten the public purse are settled one way or the other.”
Imperial Tobacco has said it would sue the UK government to protect its intellectual property rights. The Australian government is defending its introduction of plain packaging in a case before the World Trade Organisation.
The government announced plans in January to press ahead with legislation on plain cigarette packaging before the general election, three years after it was first put forward.
The proposal was dropped from the Queen’s speech in 2013 when the government, which was thought to have been lobbied intensively by the tobacco industry, said it needed more time to consider the implications.
Announcing the government’s decision to put the plans to a vote at the beginning of the year, the health minister Jane Ellison said plain packaging was a “proportionate and justified response” because of the health risks associated with smoking. Smoking-related disease remains the main cause of preventable deaths in the UK, killing more than 100,000 people a year.
De Bois, like other opponents of the regulations, criticised the lack of debating time given to MPs. “It’s a done deal, but it’s very disappointing that we only had 90 minutes in a committee room to challenge the government on some of their assumptions,” he said.
Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of health charity Ash, welcomed the result, saying: “The government, and MPs from all parties, are to be congratulated for resisting the bully-boy tactics and misinformation of the tobacco industry and for implementing the most important public health reform of this parliament.”
Dr Penny Woods, the British Lung Foundation’s chief executive, said: “We are simply delighted that the House of Commons has spoken out to protect the 200,000 children taking up smoking every year in this country.
“Our MPs have refused to believe the myths churned out by big tobacco about plain packaging increasing illicit trade – desperate attempts by companies to cling onto corporate profit at the expense of the next generation’s lives and lungs.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th March 2015 17.37 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010