Retailers will be asked to explain their links to the tobacco industry when responding to the government’s consultation on plain packaging, due to be published imminently.

Speaking at the Royal College of Physicians’ tobacco conference, health secretary Andrew Lansley said he was proud that the UK would be the first in Europe to consult on it.

“Being the first will give us a great chance to shape policy. Everyone will be able to respond to the consultation, including manufacturers and retailers, but everyone who responds will be asked about their links with the tobacco industry,” he continued.

“We won’t be engaging with manufacturers on this as we don’t have any common ground. Tobacco is not like alcohol. There is no responsible level of tobacco consumption. There are no two ways about it - smoking kills and we have to reduce it.”

The consultation on plain packaging would form part of a multi-faceted plan to reduce smoking rates in 2012, starting with a tobacco display ban in large stores on April 6, and further tobacco tax increases, with a focus on Roll Your Own products, set to be announced in the Budget, he added.

Claims by UK tobacco manufacturers that plain packaging will boost the illicit trade were scorned by speakers.

“The argument simply doesn’t make sense,” Luk Joossens, advocacy officer for the ECL foundation against cancer said. “Anything that can be seen can be counterfeited, which is why focusing on the things that cannot be seen, such as invisible ink and holograms, will be key.”