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Doctors urge ministers to implement tobacco packaging reforms

The BMA is urging the government to introduce laws on tobacco packaging to reduce the appeal of smoking, particularly for young people.

It has strongly backed proposals outlined in a government consultation to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products. The consultation closed last week. The packaging could include no branding, a uniform colour, and standard font and text.

Earlier today, the Australian High Court upheld moves by the Australian government to implement similar restrictions. From December 2012, tobacco products will have to be sold in Australia in olive green packaging bearing graphic health warnings. It will be the first country in the world to introduce such rules.

BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson argues in the BMA’s consultation response that standardised packaging would be a key measure to help protect young people from evocative brand imagery.

She maintains: ‘The introduction of standardised packaging would limit the marketing power associated with branding, and reduce the appeal of tobacco products to consumers, especially young people.

‘It has the potential to discourage young people from starting smoking, make it easier for smokers to give up, and discourage people who have quit from relapsing.’

Prevent brand stretching

Dr Nathanson says that surveys conducted in England and Scotland indicate public support for standardised packaging, which she insists should be ‘dull and unappealing’.

She adds: ‘It is essential that plain packaging is eventually extended to other related products, including e-cigarettes, to prevent brand stretching by the tobacco industry.’

The BMA does not believe that standardised packaging will increase the sale of counterfeit tobacco as industry claims, because there are other features to aid the identification of genuine products. The BMA board of science has published several reports on tobacco.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health also endorsed standardised packaging for tobacco. College president Hilary Cass said: ‘[We are] urging government to stub out eye-catching designs and prevent our children from developing these deadly illnesses in their adult life.’