Yesterday the government finally listened to public health experts from around the world and at last, after much feet dragging, announced it will bring forward regulations on standardised packaging of tobacco. This vital measure will help prevent children taking up smoking, saving thousands of lives in the process. I welcome it unreservedly.
Most adult smokers began smoking as children - two thirds before they were 18. Standardised packaging helps to prevent children lighting up for the first time by replacing the glitzy designs and appealing packets that we know entice children, with standardized fonts and health warnings.
It is a life saver. So why has it taken so long for the government to reach this point? It has been years since the idea was first proposed and it was almost a year ago that MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of it. In that time, over 200,000 children would have smoked their first cigarette - the delay is inexcusable.
The failure of ministers to act has not been because of a lack of time; this has been going on for years. Nor has it been through a lack of public support - a YouGov poll conducted in March 2014 found that overall 64% of adults in Great Britain support or strongly support standardised packaging, with only 11% opposed to it - and nor has it been through a lack of evidence. The government-commissioned review by Sir Cyril Chantler concluded back in April last year that "standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking", could lead to an "important reduction" of uptake and prevalence, and have a "positive impact" on public health. This was not news. Sir Cyril himself said: "my overall findings are not dissimilar to those of previous reviews."
So, this begs the question, why has the government dragged its feet for so long? The fact is that the government has come under intense lobbying from the big tobacco companies, attempting to persuade ministers to sit on their hands, resulting in u-turn after u-turn. It raises questions, yet again, about the influence of the Prime Minister's advisor, tobacco lobbyist, Lynton Crosby.
This aside, today is a day for celebration - a victory for children's health and for the campaigners who have called for this for so long. This will be an important step towards Labour's ambition, announced last week in our public health paper, for the first smoke-free generation from 2015.
The minister has assured the House that there will be a vote before the end of the Parliament. The government must now honour this promise, press ahead without delay and ensure that this vital, life saving measure is introduced as soon as possible.
Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Public HealthSuggest a correction