Is dying cool? Plans to introduce plain packaging to put youngsters off smoking backed by Manchester MP

The campaign to ban branding of any kind on cigarette packs has been backed by Withington MP John Leech.

Yesterday the government announced that draft regulations would ‘proceed as swiftly as possible’ in bringing forward legislation to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products.

This announcement was made after a comprehensive review of the evidence concluded that standardised packaging would contribute to a ‘modest but important reduction’ in smoking.

The latest data available for Manchester shows there were 371.8 estimated deaths attributable to smoking per 100,000 population aged over 35-years old and, that in Manchester, 27.2% of persons aged 18-years old and over were smokers.

And Mr Leech, who has long supported standardised packing for tobacco, said: “Manchester has the worst record for deaths attributed to smoking in the country and research from Australia shows that young smokers are deterred by standardised packaging.

“I am glad the government are finally moving forward on this, and the sooner this becomes law the better.”

Sir Cyril Chantler was commissioned in November 2013 to determine whether standardising packaging would be likely to have an effect on public health, particularly children’s health.

His report, published yesterday, concluded that standardised packaging “is very likely to lead to a modest but important reduction over time on the uptake and prevalence of smoking and thus have a positive impact on public health.”

Sir Cyril also concluded that tobacco advertising increases the likelihood of children taking up smoking and that branded packaging is a major part of this advertising:

The report dismisses claims by the tobacco industry that branded packaging serves solely to encourage brand switching among adult smokers and concludes that, instead, it contributes to increased tobacco consumption.

There is also no reason to suppose that branded packaging designed to appeal to young adults would also, even if unintentionally appeal to children, the report says.

Sir Cyril said: “I am persuaded that branded packaging plays an important role in encouraging young people to smoke and in consolidating the habit irrespective of the intentions of the industry.”

In Australia, which became the first country to introduce plain packaging in 2011, tobacco must be sold in packages in which the entire packet is covered by graphic health warnings.

There is as yet, little data on the effectiveness of the Australian legislation but the Australian government has stated its belief that it is having a beneficial effect on public health.

Public health minister Jane Ellison told the House of Commons this week that smoking kills nearly 80,000 people each year and that two thirds of smokers become addicted before the age of 18.

She said: “As a nation, therefore, we should consider every effective measure we can to stop children taking up smoking in the first place.

“There is no reason why legislation could not be brought before the House before the end of this Parliament.

“Even a modest impact on a major killer is really important.”

Public health campaigners also welcomed the findings. Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “The Chantler Review has backed a significant step towards a healthier future for the UK’s children.

“We’re very pleased the Government will now move forward and lay out draft regulations on standardised packs.

“This should happen as quickly as possible. We have the evidence and the overwhelming support of parliament, the health community and the public. No more time should be wasted.

“Children find the brightly coloured and slick designs of today’s packs appealing. Standardised packaging will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.”

Tobacco Free Futures has led the campaign for standardised packaging in Manchester and the North West, said.

Chief executive Andrea Crossfield says the support across Greater Manchester is there for all to see with more than 27,000 joining the fight.

She added: “Legislation would save thousands of young people in our region being enticed to smoke through glitzy, glamorous and attractive tobacco packaging. 18,000 young people start smoking every year in the North West and this is something that has to change.

“We are calling upon the Government to act now and protect young people and children from tobacco industry marketing, by implementing legislation as soon as possible.”

Some groups however have not welcomed the report’s findings.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, said: “The final decision on standardised packaging must be based on hard evidence that it stops children smoking. Conjecture and subjective opinion are not enough.

“A four-month consultation resulted in over 665,000 responses, two thirds of them opposed to plain packaging.

“We urge government not to ignore those responses which were submitted in good faith.”

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