The government today postponed plans to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products in England.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the plans would be delayed until the impact of the legislation in Australia could be measured.

The responses to the consultation were “highly polarised”, with 53% in favour of standardised packaging and 43% against the proposals.

“This decision is an important one and whilst we keep it under review, we’ll be continuing to implement our existing plan to reduce smoking rates through ending the display of tobacco in all shops, running national behaviour change campaigns to encourage smokers to quit and through supporting local authorities to provide effective stop smoking services,” Hunt said.

The majority of business respondents to the consultation were tobacco retailers, in particular convenience stores. Some 70% of respondents had no links to the tobacco industry.

Criticising the decision, Labour health spokeswoman Diane Abbott said: “Once again we see a government that has lost its way on public health and caved in to big business. [The decision] bears no relationship to the evidence and people will die.”

But Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman welcomed the decision saying: “We are pleased the government has not gone ahead with proposals to introduce standardised packaging on tobacco products. We have argued consistently that more evidence is needed on the impact of this measure on smoking rates and retail and business costs before taking such a step. 

“We are committed to continuing to play our role in preventing youth access to tobacco and encouraging further action against the black market in tobacco.”

The Scottish Government has reaffirmed its commitment to introducing standardised packaging.

Currently only Australia has introduced standardised packaging, although Ireland and New Zealand have committed to introducing similar plans.