The introduction of plain packaging in the UK appears to have stalled for the time being, as new findings from Australia show that the legislation has backfired with tobacco sales increasing during the first full year of the new laws.
Legislation to introduce the measure in the UK was left out of the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, and not included on the list of 11 new bills that will be put before the next session of Parliament – the last before the general election next May.
There are now just over four weeks left before MPs are due to depart for their summer recess on 22 July, meaning there is not enough time for regulations to be published, the statutory six-week consultation process to take place and the result voted on.
The government had originally pledged to draft regulations alongside a short consultation by the end of April following the conclusion of The Chantler Review. However, the Department of Health is keeping tight-lipped about its plans and health minister Jane Ellison refused to be drawn on a timetable during questions in the House of Commons.
While enabling legislation has already been passed, which could pave the way for plain packs through the Children and Families Bill, these details would also need to be put to and voted on in Parliament.
Earlier this month the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an open letter from 600 health professionals calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to bring the regulations forward.
Reacting to the BMJ letter, Labour’s shadow public health minister Luciana Berger MP also called for action.
“Two months after the government committed itself to standardised packaging, it seems that David Cameron has allowed progress to stall again,” she added.
However, despite the apparent delay, Imperial Tobacco’s UK head of corporate affairs Colin Wragg urged retailers against apathy.
“It’s important that retailers do not assume that the lack of mention to plain packaging within the Queen’s speech means that it is off the political agenda,” he said.
Last week the Republic of Ireland became the first country in Europe to try to pass plain packaging laws after putting forward a new draft bill.
Irish health minister James Reilly said: “The objective of the bill is to make tobacco packs look less attractive to consumers, to make health warnings more prominent and to reduce the ability of the packs to mislead people, especially children about the harmful effects of smoking.”