02/05/2013 08:26 BST

Plain Cigarette Packaging Plans Could Be Axed, Health Campaigners Angry

Health campaigners have reacted angrily to claims that David Cameron has axed plans to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes, calling the apparent decision "bewildering".

A bitter battle has been waged on whether plain packaging should be introduced, with a public consultation attracted hundreds of thousands of responses.

Critics have previously raised concerns over the extent of lobbying taking place by the tobacco industry, which claims plain packaging will cost jobs and encourage counterfeiting.

Australia has already brought in plain packaging

Officials have been weighing up the move for over a year and it was widely expected for the initiative to be announced during next week's Queen's speech.

But reports suggest that David Cameron has ordered the proposed law to be pulled from the speech on May 8.

A Whitehall source told The Sun: "Plain packaging may or may not be a good idea, but it's nothing to do with the Government's key purpose.

"The PM is determined to strip down everything we do so we can concentrate all our efforts on voters' essentials. That means growth, immigration and welfare reform."

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, added: "Given the public health minister herself has publicly acknowledged that cigarette packaging encourages young people to start smoking, it is bewildering that the Government are still allowing this by refusing to introduce standardised packaging.

"Over 200,000 young people have started smoking since the Government began its consultation on plain packaging. During that time more than 100,000 people have died as a result of their habit.

"The time has surely now come for the UK Government to stop dithering on this issue and follow the example set by their Scottish counterparts. Using expensively-designed packaging to sell cigarettes to young people is wrong and should be stopped."

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: "For a Whitehall source to say that improving public health and reducing premature mortality is no longer one of the Government's key purposes is shocking.

"Smoking remains the major preventable cause of death and disability and measures to reduce smoking prevalence are popular and effective. Over 60% of the public support standard packaging for cigarette packs.

"It will take a lot of explanation if this crucial public health measure is not included in the Queen's speech on 8 May."

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 uniform packs.

Cigarette packets and other products are all sold in a standardised colour, with only the brand name and graphic warnings visible.