Britain is to delay its consultation on plain packaging of tobacco products until the spring of 2012 as it considers a series of issues after Australia prepares to be the first nation to introduce such legislation by end-2012.
British Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the government will kick off the process with an invitation for those parties with an interest to respond early next year, but it will need to take many relevant factors into account.
In view of these requirements, the consultation will not be available prior to the new year. The consultation will be published in spring 2012 and I would encourage all those with an interest to respond, Lansley said in a written ministerial statement on Thursday.
He is eager to cut the number of young people who take up smoking as 330,000 children under 16 in England each year first try smoking and the majority of smokers start regularly before they are 18. He is also looking to support those adults who want to quit smoking.
Last month, Australia approved laws to introduce plain packaging from December 2012 to reduce the attractions of smoking, but three global tobacco giants have launched lawsuits saying the laws infringe trademark rights.
Three of the world's four largest tobacco group, Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco are challenging Australia's new law in its High Court.
Under the new legislation, cigarette, pipe tobacco and cigars will have to be sold in branding-free olive green packs displaying the product name in a plain typeface along with graphic health warnings. Governments in Europe, Canada and New Zealand are watching the move closely.
In March this year, Lansley introduced his tobacco control plan to explore options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging and said then that this would include a consideration of a move towards plain packaging.
But he is having to look for expert legal advice on all aspects of a possible move, including the intellectual property right implications, the cost and public health benefits.
Britain is already introducing laws whereby tobacco products should be hidden from view in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 2012 in large retailers and from 2015 in small retailers in a domestic market largely dominated by Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco.
(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)