The government has finally launched its long-awaited plain packaging consultation alongside draft regulations which could see branded cigarette and rolling tobacco packs banned from May 2016.

The consultation will run for six weeks, closing on 7 August, but cigars are exempt from the proposals.

Announcing the consultation, health minister Jane Ellison said: “The government has not yet made a final decision on whether to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products. This consultation will inform decision-making by the Department of Health and Devolved Administrations on whether to introduce it.”

The draft regulations state that:

  • External packaging would be “drab brown with a matt finish.”
  • Text on packaging would be in a grey Helvetica typeface, and brand and variant names may appear once on the front, top and bottom surfaces of packs.

In-line with requirements in the European Tobacco Products Directive (EUTPD) the regulations also state that a pack of cigarettes must contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes and rolling tobacco at least 30g.

The proposals do not apply to specialist tobacco products such as cigars, given their low rates of use, particularly by young people.

Should the government decide to proceed, the law would be implemented in May 2016 to coincide with the transposition deadline for the EUTPD, which will also require picture health warnings to cover 65% of the front and back of packs.

The government is also proposing a 12-month sell-through period for old stock that was manufactured before May 2016.

Local authority trading standards officers would be responsible for enforcement (or environmental health officers in Northern Ireland).

The draft regulations also provide for a defence for retailers who unknowingly sold tobacco packaging that was in breach of the regulations.

JTI’s UK managing director Daniel Torras said it was  “inappropriate” that the consultation was so short. “Why is the government doing the bare minimum for a clearly controversial measure that was opposed by nearly two thirds of the respondents to the last public consultation?” he asked.

“Plain packaging has not had a positive public health impact in Australia and the UK will be no different. JTI is calling for a thorough independent review into the wide-ranging potential negative impacts of plain packaging that were not considered by the Chantler review – including competition, trademarks and freedom of choice.”

Imperial Tobacco’s head of corporate and legal affairs Colin Wragg added: “We are baffled by the small window of opportunity government has given to respond. We will respond to the consultation by rigorously refuting the Chantler report findings that plain packaging will contribute to the Government’s public health objectives.”