The Tobacco Manufacturers Association (TMA) has dismissed claims made by a recent study that plain tobacco packaging could lead to 300,000 less smokers in the UK by 2018.

According to the Cochrane Review, plain packaging could lead to a 0.5% decline in smokers by May next year. The findings were backed up by a report from the Australian government that noticed a 0.55% drop in smoking prevalence since plain packs were introduced in 2012.

But Giles Roca, director general of the TMA, said: “This report destroys the rationale for the introduction of plain packaging by finding no evidence that it actually acts a deterrent to young people in taking up smoking, this was at the core of the government’s argument for its introduction. It also questions the Australian government’s assessment of its effectiveness noting that the quality of the evidence is low. It would be entirely wrong to use these figures to undertake a comparison with the UK.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, added: “It’s grasping at straws to credit plain packaging with the continued reduction in smoking rates because the most significant anti-smoking measure in recent years in Australia has been a massive increase in tobacco taxation.”

Retailer Ralph Patel, owner of The Look-In store in Woodmansterne, is concerned that those turning away from plain packs are turning to the illicit trade.

“There will be a reduction in tobacco purchases as a result of plain packaging but not necessarily a reduction in the amount of smokers, because they will turn to the growing illicit trade instead. It is ludicrous for anyone to turn around and directly attribute a decline in tobacco sales to plain packaging alone,” he said.

An independent survey in the North East from NEMS Market Research found that plain packs had an impact on smokers, with 29% of smokers saying they prompted thoughts about quitting, 60% saying they looked less attractive and 51% noticing health warnings more.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH added: “Standard packs are a landmark public health policy the tobacco industry fought tooth and nail to prevent. As evidence grows it is easy to see why. Smokers already saying they feel differently about their pack of cigarettes and in years to come we expect to see fewer young people smoking as they are no longer seduced by brightly coloured packs.”