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Plain Cigarette Packaging Wins Scottish Government Support

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Cigarettes and other tobacco products should be sold in plain packaging, the Scottish government has said.

The pledge makes Scotland the first part of the UK to officially support standardised packaging, following a consultation which began last year.

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Australia introduced standardised cigarette packets last year

Scottish Public Health minister Michael Matheson announced the move in a new strategy to help people stop smoking.

He also set a target to reduce the number of smokers in Scotland from 23% to 5% by 2034.

Earlier this week the devolved administration committed to making all NHS grounds smoke-free by 2015.

Mr Matheson said: "We've already seen the huge health benefits that followed the ban on smoking in public places. This government is determined to build on this success, improving health and reducing health inequalities by reducing the number of people smoking.

"Our vision of a tobacco-free generation is about reaping the health, social and economic benefits that a significant reduction in smoking would bring. It would be an achievement of which we could all be proud.

"That's why strong and decisive action, like standardised packaging and increased education, are the right steps to prevent young people from taking up smoking."

Last April the UK government launched a consultation on introducing mandatory standardised packaging for tobacco products.

Health campaigners welcomed the proposal but opponents claimed it would lead to increased smuggling and job losses.

Information generated by the consultation, which closed in August, is still being analysed by health officials.

In December, Australia became the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in standardised packs.

The Scottish government said it will wait for the UK government and other devolved administrations to respond to the consultation on standardised packaging before deciding on appropriate legislation.

The 5% smokers target would make Scotland effectively "smoke-free", the government said.

Only New Zealand and Finland have set similarly strict targets.

The strategy was revealed by Mr Matheson during a visit to an education programme for 16 to 24-year-olds at Carnegie College in Fife.

cigarette packaging

Coming soon to a Scottish newsagents near you?

Other aims are to invest more in education for young people, to create a national marketing campaign on the danger of second-hand smoke and to set a target for reducing children's exposure to smoke.

A ban on the open display of tobacco products in large shops and sales from self-service vending machines will be introduced in Scotland on 29 April.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking group Ash, said: "It's excellent news that the Scottish government wants to introduce standard packaging for all tobacco products. Now it's time for the UK government to follow Scotland's lead and commit to legislation in the Queen's speech in May.

"Australia has proved that introducing standardised packaging is easy to implement and causes no problems for retailers. There's good evidence that standard packs are much less attractive particularly to children, which is why the public and the experts support this measure.

"It's over six months since the consultation closed. What is the government waiting for?"

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "With thousands of children starting to smoke every year and more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK linked to smoking, urgent action is needed to tackle the devastation caused by tobacco.

"We share the Scottish government's vision of a Scotland free from tobacco and the commitment to introduce plain packaging is a real step forward in the fight to protect children from tobacco addiction.

"Replacing glitzy, brightly coloured packs that appeal to children with standard packs displaying prominent health warnings would be a huge public health achievement and give youngsters one less reason to start smoking."

Ben McKendrick, of the British Heart Foundation in Scotland, said: "This is a killer product and should not look appealing to young people. We want young people with healthy hearts and to be under no misunderstanding that cigarettes are highly addictive and that smoking can double your risk of having a heart attack."

Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said a study shows that plain packaging will reduce the appeal of cigarettes.

"Australia recently introduced plain packaging but, in advance of that, there were a number of studies that looked at this issue. We brought these studies together in a recent systematic review of the evidence," she said.

"The findings are very consistent and show that plain packaging would reduce the appeal of cigarettes, improve the impact of health warnings on packs and help to reduce misunderstandings about the harmfulness of smoking."
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Simon Clark, director of smokers' group Forest which runs the Hands Off Our Packs campaign, said there is no credible evidence to support plain packaging.

"We support all reasonable measures, including education, that will discourage children from smoking," he said.

"Plain packaging is unreasonable because there is no credible evidence that it will have any impact on youth smoking rates.

"There is a real risk that standardised packaging, like excessive taxation, will encourage illicit trade and if that happens, those at greatest risk will be children because criminal gangs don't care who they sell cigarettes to.

"Plain packaging is designed to denormalise a legal product and millions of adult consumers. What next? Alcohol, fizzy drinks and fast food?"

Dr Charles Saunders, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, welcomed the strategy but said more effort is needed to help people quit the habit.

"While local smoking cessation services are already widely available in GP practices and pharmacies, we need to do more to help those who smoke to quit and, in particular, we would like to see more support to help pregnant women who smoke to stop during pregnancy, and stay stopped," he said.