Cigarettes could be sold in plain packs after ministers said they were "minded" to introduce the measure.
The Department of Health is to launch a consultation on whether tobacco products should be sold in standardised packaging after a review concluded the initiative could contribute to a "modest but important reduction" in smoking rates.
The Sir Cyril Chantler review concluded that the measure, which would see cigarettes and other tobacco products put in drab and purposefully unattractive packaging, would contribute to a reduction in the prevalence of smoking.
He also suggested that branded packs contribute to an increase in tobacco consumption.
Health experts have long campaigned for the measure to be introduced, saying that brightly coloured packages are the last marketing ploy tobacco companies use to lure people to their products.
But smoking groups claimed that stripping cigarette packets of branding would lead to an increase in the illicit trade of tobacco products and job losses.
Public health minister Jane Ellison said: "Smoking kills nearly 80,000 people each year in England alone and our cancer outcomes stubbornly lag behind much of Europe. Quite apart from the enormous pressure this creates on the NHS, it is a cruel waste of human potential.
"Yet we know that the vast majority of smokers want to quit and even more tragically we also know that two-thirds of smokers become addicted before they are 18. As a nation therefore we should consider every effective measure we can to stop children taking up smoking in the first place.
"I would like to thank Sir Cyril and his team for their work and for their thorough analysis of the evidence on standardised packaging."
Sir Cyril said he was "not convinced" by arguments that standardised packaging would lead to an increase in illicit trade.
He said UK enforcement agencies have already shown they can keep illegal products to low levels.
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The former paediatrician said: "Research cannot prove conclusively that a single measure like standardised packaging of tobacco products will reduce smoking and it is not possible to carry out a controlled trial.
"However, I am satisfied that there is enough evidence to say that standardised packaging is very likely to contribute to a modest but important reduction in smoking. This effect will be optimised if is part of a wider tobacco control strategy.
"The evidence base is modest and it has its limitations, but it points in a single direction, and I am not aware of any evidence pointing the other way.
"Given the dangers of smoking, the suffering that it causes, the highly addictive nature of nicotine, the fact that most smokers become addicted when they are children or young adults, and the overall cost to society, the importance of such a reduction should not be underestimated."