The Department of Health (DoH) has denied widespread reports in the press today that it is to perform a U turn on plans to implement plain packaging for tobacco.

The plans are said to have been put on hold so that ministers can examine whether smoking levels fall in Australia.

However, a DoH spokesman told Convenience Store this morning that the government still had “an open mind on the issue.”

 “Whilst this is an interesting development, at this stage there has been no official confirmation of the government’s position on plain packaging,” JTI managing director Jorge da Motta added.

“Concerns about the lack of evidence and the potential negative impacts plain packaging would have on issues such as illicit trade have been raised by many groups in a year-long consultation, and we still await publication of the findings. Working together to eradicate the illegal trade in cigarettes in the streets and communities across the UK must be a priority, instead of embarking on an initiative which is unwarranted,” he said.

“We welcome the news, if it’s true,” said Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign. 

“Plain packaging has nothing to do with health. There is no evidence that it would make any difference to youth smoking rates but it could do enormous harm to small businesses, especially in the packaging industry, and help drive illicit trade,” he added.

“We’re pleased that the prime minister has apparently recognised this and has listened to the hundreds of thousands of people who expressed their opposition to standardised packaging in the government consultation.”