The Government has caused uproar among tobacco companies and trade associations with its confirmation that a vote on the introduction of standardised tobacco packaging will take place before Parliament breaks ahead of the General Election.

Health Minister Jane Ellison announced during an evening adjournment debate yesterday (January 21) that the measures would be laid before parliament.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The tobacco display ban has not yet been introduced for small stores, but instead of assessing the impact one regulation before moving to the next, the Government is pressing ahead with new and burdensome regulations for local shops. There is no convincing evidence that standardised packaging will affect smoking rates.”

Imperial Tobacco said the UK Government’s decision to vote in favour of Standardised Packaging was politically motivated and contradicted evidence from Australia regarding its success.

Melvin Ruigrok general manager of Imperial Tobacco UK commented: “The Government should evaluate the effectiveness of current tobacco control measures before proceeding with Standardised Packaging, where no credible evidence has been forthcoming that it will contribute to improving public health.

“As shown in Australia, Standardised Packaging in England will merely act as a windfall for criminals looking to profit from the illicit trade; furthermore we will work on strengthening our brands which are defended by national, European and international laws concerning the protection of intellectual property.

“To reassure the trade, as an industry we have effectively and robustly navigated our way through a plethora of tobacco legislation while continuing to provide an important category for our trade partners. The Government announcement does not represent a done deal and we will continue to positively and proactively engage with the Government.”

JTI released a statement denouncing plain packaging as “unlawful” and would deprive the company of assets worth billions of pounds at a time when the UK economy appears to be turning the corner.

“It is inexplicable that the Government is rushing to legislate on this important issue, which was opposed by nearly two thirds of the respondents to a public consultation; and over 40% of other EU member states have raised concerns over the plain packaging proposals. JTI and others have repeatedly said that plain packaging would infringe EU requirements on the free movement of goods, violate property and other fundamental rights – including trademark rights – and go against obligations under EU and WTO rules.

“We have no doubt the major crime syndicates across the globe are scrutinising these proposed regulations as the UK Government prepares to provide counterfeiters with a blueprint of exactly how to copy UK tobacco packs in the future. Brand owners of products in any controversial industries should prepare for similar anti-business measures as the Government has now made it clear that regulation will be passed despite the evidence showing that plain packaging doesn’t work.“