The government plans to introduce plain packaging legislation ahead of the general election in May, public health minister Jane Ellison has revealed.

Tobacco products would then be sold in plain packs from May 2016 - when many of the other regulations contained in the EU Tobacco Products Directive also come into force.

“Having considered all the evidence, the Secretary of State and I believe that the policy is a proportionate and justified response to the considerable public health harm from smoking tobacco,” Ellison said.

“I now propose that we lay regulations for standardised packaging in this parliament to allow for them to come into force at the same time as the European Tobacco Products Directive in May 2016. In doing so we would be bringing the prospect of our first smoke-free generation one step closer,” she added.

Ministers will now vote on the issue before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election campaign, which begins in April.

The European Tobacco Products Directive will bring in a wider range of tobacco control measures, including larger picture health warnings, a ban on cigarettes in packs of 10 and a ban on flavourings, including menthol.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “The tobacco display ban has not yet been introduced for small stores, but instead of assessing the impact one regulation before moving to the next, the government is pressing ahead with new and burdensome regulations for local shops.

”There is no convincing evidence that standardised packaging will affect smoking rates.”