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Tobacco control measures found to be cost-effective, says WHO report

A report (link is external) from the National Cancer Institute in the US and the World Health Organisation has found that tobacco control measures are highly cost-effective, but under-used in some countries.

The report also states that tobacco control doesn’t harm economies, and reduces the impact smoking has on poorer communities.

“Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the world” – George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK

Tobacco control measures include tax increases, bans on advertising, including health warnings on packages, policies to restrict where people can smoke and programmes to help them quit.

“This valuable report highlights the substantial financial cost of tobacco,” said George Butterworth, tobacco policy manager at Cancer Research UK. “It’s good to see that the most cost effective measures – tobacco tax and price increases – are being called for as part of comprehensive tobacco control strategies.”

Smoking accounts for 1 in 4 UK cancer deaths and nearly 1 in 5 of all cancer cases.

“The human cost of the tobacco industry is enormous,” said Butterworth. “Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the world, killing almost 6 million people worldwide and 100,000 people in the UK each year.”

The report states that, while effective measures to reduce smoking rates are available, they don’t yet cover the vast majority of the world’s population. And where taxes are used, the money is rarely invested in health programmes.

The report also finds that people in poorer communities stand to benefit most from tobacco control measures, due to the proportion of income spent on tobacco and negative health effects it causes in these areas.

In the UK, a ban on smoking in public places as well as tobacco advertising restrictions, including picture warnings of health issues and standardised packaging, are all in place.

“Cancer Research UK’s ambition to see a Tobacco-Free country by 2035, where less than 5 per cent of adults smoke, is in line with the UK’s commitment to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” Butterworth added.

But Stop Smoking Services across England are facing ongoing budget cuts after 6 in 10 local authorities were forced to reduce their funding in the last year.

Illegal trade, and the fact that 5 tobacco companies account for 85% of the global cigarette market, were both highlighted by the report as challenges for future control efforts.

The report also warns against relaxing the progress made across the world in controlling tobacco, and calls for continued research and use of evidence-based policies.

Dr Robert Croyle, Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, said: “The global scale of suffering, death, and disease from tobacco use is staggering. Millions of early deaths can be prevented if nations adopt evidence-based tobacco control policies.”

UK’s detailed TPD plans suggest light-touch approach

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Governments To Introduce Super Tax On Tobacco Industry

Cigarettes are the most effective killing machine on the planet. Something radical has to be done to stop 1 in 7 of children becoming smokers.

1 billion people smoke cigarettes which in time will kill half of its users amounting to over 6 million people each year. That’s equivalent to wiping out the population of Britain in a decade.

Meanwhile, the world leading tobacco companies boast an income of $315 billion and the top 6 companies make profits of $44bn.

Tobacco deaths account for 20% of all cancer cases. 14 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. And before people buy into the highly addictive E- cigarettes as the ‘healthy’ option, according to the World Cancer Report, they contain 3,000 chemicals and 28 carcinogens with similar nasties as cigarettes.

Just as 1,000 leading doctors are calling on Theresa May to create a brave new policy on smoking, a bold clear thinking leader could easily introduce a Super Tax forcing tobacco companies to set aside monies to build and run standalone cancer hospitals exclusively for the use of its loyal customers that they are killing. This would reduce substantial pressure on hospitals and release monies to care for people who do not choose habits that make them ill.

There are enough people sadly affected by illness not of their own making, so let’s eradicate the illnesses that are of our making and penalise the industries that make money out of suffering.

Every problem can be solved if we deal with the cause. It’s all about the cause but who wants to deal with the cause?

Obama just announced a bill to spend $6.3 billion to fight cancer over the next decade. Very admirable.

BUT how stupid are we?

Over 2.5 million of cancer deaths per year are avoidable. Main causes being SMOKING, OVEREATING, ALCOHOL ABUSE.

It’s a sad fact of life that we are safest and cause less harm to ourselves and others when we are asleep!

Just as governments found the banks to be sitting ducks to fine handsomely for their misdemeanours, there is far higher justification to target the tobacco companies to save lives, save tax-payers money, save grief, save pain and save suffering.

Our addictions and bad habits cause the majority of our problems but only when we accept this brutal naked truth do we realise we have the power to change ourselves rather than pollute ourselves. Life is tough enough without making ourselves ill.

Many amazing people help and inspire us to overcome our addictions, yet governments are slow to do what is right to implement radical and aggressive change. It should be mandatory for school children to visit cancer wards from a young age to see the effects of cigarette and alcohol abuse as part of the curriculum as well as drug addiction facilities to witness how drugs can destroy people.

I have recently been staying in Manhattan Beach, a smoke free city in California. Here you can’t smoke outside anywhere. Someone made it happen. Other cities and countries could easily follow.

On Christmas Day, the legendary George Michael passed away. On the same day, a brave friend of mine Murray Goldstein also left us. Murray had an important message for the smokers in the world:

“My father was a heavy smoker all his life. He lived to 90 with the occasional cough. Had I known then that he was the exception to the rule I probably would never have become addicted. But in those days, there was no information available that told you smoking was bad for the health.

I smoked a few packets a day from the age of 16 and had a heart attack in my 30s because of smoking and poor diet. I carried on smoking which ruined my chance of a healthy life.

The last 12 years have been a form of purgatory as I have developed COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – which is irreversible, fighting for every breath. My world has revolved around my illness, affecting my near and dear ones especially my wife who has made a great sacrifice to care for me. During the last few years I have needed 24 hour care and the emergency services have revived me several times.

My advice to present day smokers – GIVE IT UP BEFORE YOU GET ILL – it’s not as hard as you think. Don’t wait until the first heart attack or the news that you have cancer. Please learn from my mistakes. I stopped 8 years ago and have never had any cravings and I was a forty-a-day man for years!”

Congratulations to all smokers who finally kick the habit and take Murray’s advice.

Meanwhile, our leaders would do well to reflect on Gandhi’s wise words:

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems.

Southampton smokers buying cheap cigarettes ‘unknowingly funding international terrorism’

Smokers who seek out cheap cigarettes and tobacco in Southampton are unknowingly helping to fund organised crime and even international terrorism.

That’s the fear of experts who say that millions of pounds in profits from illegal and fake tobacco products easily available from rogue traders is finding its way into the pockets of the worst of criminals and killers.

This week the Daily Echo has revealed how our exclusive research in Southampton has shown how a flood of illegal and fake tobacco products are openly being sold by some unscrupulous traders and individuals.

Our independent undercover investigators had no trouble in buying packets of cigarettes and roll you own (RYO) tobacco at a fraction of the true cost of legal, branded products.

We reported how many of the fake fags were actually made of poor grade tobacco and included such ingredients as rat droppings, human excrement, dead insects, plastic and asbestos.

And we told how there are fears that the trade in illegal and fake cigarettes was funding organised crime and even international terrorism.

Today we look at how the trade is funding the worst of crimes as gangs seek to profit from the high taxes levels in the UK that entice some smokers to seek cheaper products.

Those who buy counterfeit and illegal tobacco products are almost always unaware that they are unwittingly part of an elaborate criminal network that inflicts pain and misery throughout the globe.

The recent terror attacks in France and Germany as well as the Middle East and further afield have shown how dangerous these people can be.

Yet few buying cheap cigarettes or rolling tobacco in Southampton would make the link between their actions and the men and women people who control the killers.

Cheap tobacco products are made in unregulated factories around the world, especially in the Far East. The products are then smuggled into the UK which has some of the highest taxes on tobacco in the world. In some parts of the country as much as 50 per cent of rolling tobacco is believed to be illegal or fake brands.

The United Nation’s Security Council’s investigative body was reported to have found that millions of pounds in illicit tobacco revenue is reaching the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The UN also says it has found links to Congolese rebels who have been recruiting child soldiers and carrying out atrocities in the African country.

Europol – the European wide law enforcement agency – says that some countries in Eastern Europe and Asia act as transit countries where gangs can establish warehouses and factories before sending the finished goods to the lucrative Western European markets.

Joining in with the fight against the trade is HMRC who say that they are determined to stamp out illegal tobacco.

“HMRC will not cease in its efforts to track down cigarette smugglers and stop their activities,” said a spokesperson.

“In particular, the illicit trade in tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals is more attractive to organised criminals than, for example, drug trafficking, given that it is a low-risk and high-value activity.

“The high profit margins associated with illicit trade are used to fund other criminal and terrorist activities, a fact not widely understood by the British public.”

Each year HMRC and Border Force prevent billions of cigarettes and hundreds of tonnes of illegal tobacco entering the UK. Inland, HMRC and Trading Standards departments make further seizures.

In the past five years (2011/12 to 2015/16) HMRC and Border Force have seized more than 8 billion cigarettes and close to 2,000 tonnes of RYO.

It’s not difficult to understand why smokers would seek cheap tobacco products. Examples discovered here in Southampton included a counterfeit packet of Amber Leaf tobacco that was sold to a researcher for £4 when its normal cost would be around £16.60 from legitimate traders.

A pack of 20 Mayfair Cigarettes was handed over for just £3 when the legitimate cost would be £8.39.

UK taxes on tobacco, and therefore prices, are among the highest in the world, and have been so for many years. This has led to many smokers seeking out cheaper alternatives, sometime purchasing products when they go abroad, or from ‘black market’ channels.

For example, a 10g pack of Roll Your Own (RYO) costs around £3.90 in the UK while 50g of RYO can be bought in Belgium for around £4.35 – five times the quantity for only a little bit more.

Test purchasing carried out as part of our research has shown illegal cigarettes are on sale in Southampton for as little as £2.50 per 20, with RYO on sale for £4.00 per 50g.

HMRC estimates that £2.4 billion in tax revenue was lost because of tobacco smuggling in 2015/16. Since the turn of the century (2000/1 to 2015/16) the total revenue loss is £41 billion, money that could be used to build hospitals and pay for schools as well as social care.

And illegal tobacco not only represents a loss of tax revenue to the Treasury but also a loss of turnover and profits to the UK’s estimated 57,000 retailers that sell tobacco products with 6,900 here in the South East.

The Daily Echo has worked with tobacco company JTI in its investigation into illegal tobacco sales in Southampton.

Steve Wilkins, JTI Anti-Illegal Trade Operations Director said: “The link of illegal tobacco to serious and organised crime is very real and together with the crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers, JTI hopes to rid our streets of illegal tobacco and stop criminals infiltrating our communities.”

Since September 2013, JTI has removed gantries from 26 retailers convicted of selling illegal tobacco.

“JTI has had to do this as we continue to see some independent retailers get sucked into this illegal trade, giving honest hard-working retailers a bad name. If this type of crime continues, customers who buy tobacco products will lose faith and trust in their local shops as the perception grows that the independent trade is rife with ‘dodgy cigarettes”, added Mr Wilkins.

“Smokers buying cheap fake cigarettes and tobacco on the streets of the UK may be getting more than they bargain for as these fake imitations has been found to contain asbestos, mould, dust, dead flies, rat droppings and even human excrement.

“JTI fully supports efforts to rid our streets of illegal tobacco and stop criminals infiltrating our communities, and would urge local residents to work with community groups and trading standards to eradicate this type of activity.”

A spokesperson for Crimestoppers told the Echo: “The link this trade has to serious and organised crime is very real, and with the help of information from the public on those supplying and selling these fake products, our aim is to ensure your community is a safe place to live.”

What do those trading and dealing in illegal tobacco risk?
• Criminal prosecution with a custodial sentence of up to 7 years (upper level crime)
• Financial wrongdoings penalties of up to 100% of the duty due (resulting from the sale of goods which are subject to unpaid duty) In 2015/16, 1,335 tobacco related wrongdoing penalties were issued
• Fines of up to £5,000 for selling illicit tobacco not bearing the UK duty paid fiscal markings
• Vehicle seized (if illicit tobacco products are transported in it)
Additional sanctions following successful prosecution
• HMRC may make confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002
• Prohibition on the sale of tobacco products for up to 6 months
• Revocation of the store’s alcohol licence
• National Lottery terminal may be removed
• If JTI tobacco gantry is in situ, this may be removed and any further assistance from JTI terminated.

The tobacco industry has identified four areas that make the UK an easy target for organised criminals to sell illegal and fake tobaccoproducts:

Plain packaging for packets of cigarettes introduced recently into the UK makes it much easier for gangs to produce fake tobacco products with no complicated designs to copy.
High taxes in the UK means more are tempted to buy cheaper illegal products from rogue traders.
The EU’s Tobacco Products Directive bans small packets of cigarettes and rolling tobacco which widens the price gap even more between legal and fake products.
The recent introduction of the retail display ban at stores where shelves are required to be hidden from view blurs the distinction between legal and fake tobacco products.
Anyone with information about this type of crime should contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Proposals to ban smoking in cars carrying children

Plans to ban smoking in private vehicles carrying children are to be discussed, the health minister has announced.

Michelle O’Neill said it was “inconceivable that we continue to allow children to be exposed to such harm”.

In February 2016, Assembly members voted in favour of introducing the ban.

Similar legislation came into force in England and Wales in October 2015 and in Scotland in December 2016.

In the Republic of Ireland, a ban took effect last year.

The consultation will run from 6 January 2017 to 3 March 2017.

The draft regulations propose that the existing legislation, as set out in the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, will be extended so that it will be an offence to:

• Smoke in a private vehicle with someone under 18 present
• Fail to prevent smoking in a private vehicle with someone under 18 present

‘Range of illnesses’

The minister said: “The health impact of exposure to second-hand smoke has long been recognised and indeed was the motivating factor behind the introduction of legislation to ban smoking in all indoor public and work places in 2007.”

The World Health Organisation recognises that second-hand smoke is a significant threat to health, particularly amongst children, who are more likely to suffer from range of illnesses.

The consultation will seek views on the proposed new offences, suggested exemptions and “views on how the new measures will be enforced”.

Doctors urge Theresa May to publish anti-smoking strategy

In a letter to the PM, medical professionals say plan is essential to cut smoking rates, which are highest among poorest in society

More than 1,000 doctors, healthcare professionals and public health experts, including heads of royal colleges and public health institutions, are calling on the prime minister to publish the latest tobacco control plan without delay.

In a letter to Theresa May, the senior doctors say the plan is essential to drive down smoking rates, which are highest and most damaging to health among the least well-off. The plan was due to be published last summer.

Reminding May of her commitment to “fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others”, they point out that half of that difference in life expectancy is caused by smoking.

The letter, which is being published in the British Medical Journal, is being sent to May by Dr Andrew Furber, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, and Prof John Middleton, president of the Faculty of Public Health.

Furber warned that progress against smoking, which has been good in recent years, could slip. “Directors of public health in local authorities are charged with the responsibility of reducing smoking prevalence. But to succeed needs leadership at national as well as local level,” he said.

“The government must renew the tobacco strategy without further delay. Otherwise we risk losing the momentum gained from recent welcome changes such as standardised packing.”

Middleton said: “Smoking rates have declined over the years, in large part because of concerted government action. However rates are still highest amongst the poorest and if the prime minister truly wants to increase the life expectancy of the poorest in society her government needs to renew its tobacco control strategy, which expired over a year ago.”

The first tobacco strategy in the UK was the Blair government’s white paper, Smoking Kills, published in 1998. Other plans followed, including Andrew Lansley’s in 2011, then health secretary in the coalition government, which included a commitment to consult on standardised cigarette packaging.

Some anti-smoking measures have been a response to EU legislation, such as advertising and promotion bans. However, says Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, tobacco control strategies have reduced smoking rates in England faster than in some other European countries, particularly among children.

In 1998, 24% of 15-year-olds were smoking, but by 2014 that proportion had dropped to 8%. “France and Germany had European legislation but their rates have not gone down as fast,” she said.

There is also evidence that smoking rates can rise again if the pressure is eased. New York City’s successful Tobacco-Free Living initiative, which lowered smoking rates from 21% in 2002 to 14% by 2010, suffered funding cuts to mass media campaigns from 2009. By 2011, smoking rates rose, reaching 16.1% in 2013, but fell again after more investment in 2014.

Experts hope the new UK tobacco control plan, which has been delayed in part because of the Brexit vote and its fallout, will plot the course for driving smoking rates down to 5% by 2035, which a report from Cancer Research UK said was feasible.

“What we want is a smoke-free future,” said Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, a consultant chest physician at the Royal Brompton hospital and reader in respiratory medicine at Imperial College, who coordinated the letter.

Support for mass media campaigns is needed, he says, as well as the continuation of policies on the cigarette pricing and tobacco smuggling. Spending on media campaigns in England has dropped in the past five years from just under £25m in 2009-10 to £5.3m in 2015, although evidence shows they help people quit.

“It is absolutely clear these interventions work. It is just keeping up the momentum and making sure there is a high priority to this,” he said. “There are 9 million smokers in the UK, and smoking is increasingly associated with inequality – it is quite a bit higher in the poorer parts of society.”

Among the signatories are the heads of several medical colleges. One of them, Prof Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Most smokers become addicted as children and once addicted find it extremely difficult to quit. Since the government introduced a strategy to tackle smoking in 1998, smoking rates among 15-year-olds have fallen by two-thirds.

“We must not put that achievement at risk. The last tobacco strategy expired over a year ago, so we want to see the new plan published and enacted as a matter of urgency.”

Kingston University academics play key part in project to devise smartphone app that uses games technology to help smokers kick the habit

A smartphone app that could help smokers stick to New Year’s resolutions to quit by playing games to combat cravings has been developed by academics at Kingston University and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Cigbreak Free was the brainchild of games creation processes lecturer Hope Caton, from Kingston University’s School of Computer Science and Mathematics, and Robert Walton, Professor of Primary Medical Care at QMUL.

Ms Caton – who has extensive experience in video games, having worked on global hit TombRaider IV: The Last Revelation – teamed up with Professor Walton to see if they could combine a fun gaming experience with educational health messages to help smokers fight the urge to light up.

The result of the collaboration between the two universities was an app that works like a regular smartphone game, with players having to complete tasks to progress through levels, gaining rewards and gold stars along the way. However, it also incorporates a combination of some 37 behavioural change techniques – theory-based methods for changing behaviour – selected by QMUL health psychologists to help smokers quit, Ms Caton explained. “People think games are frivolous but we learn a lot through play,” she said. “The good thing about a smartphone gaming app is that you can play it anywhere.

“Craving is a short-term thing, so if you get a craving at 11am, you can play the game in the warm until it passes, rather than going out into the cold for a cigarette. You’ve also got something to do with your hands other than smoke.”

In the game, players have to swipe a certain number of cigarettes to break them within a time limit. As well as progressing through levels, the app includes a quit journal where users can calculate how much money they are saving. There are also mini-games where players have to clear smoke from a room to reveal a health message.

The app has now been commissioned for use by five London boroughs – Kingston, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets and the City of Westminster – as part of their public health smoking cessation services. Residents can download it, enter their postcode and use the app for free, with several hundred people having downloaded Cigbreak Free so far.

Ms Caton and Professor Walton were authors of a recent research study published in the British Medical Journal, which analysed the use of behaviour change techniques and game-like elements in health apps currently on the market. They found that very few of the health apps they looked at were using games to help people make positive health changes.

The development of the app was inspired by a desire to exploit the latest trends in gaming to help improve people’s health, according to Professor Walton, from QMUL.

“Some of the health messages and behaviour change techniques we have used in the game are based on our previous research and include showing players the health consequences of a behaviour, gaining points for grabbing healthy items, or providing virtual financial incentives.

“We’re essentially trying to ‘gamify’ these messages and techniques as a way of embedding them in a person’s mind, in the hope that they will then be able to quit smoking.”

Rewards in the game were a way of giving smokers instant positive feedback, Ms Caton added. “When you’re trying to quit smoking you don’t get much instant feedback except desire. Your health is better but somehow it doesn’t have the same effect as being told you’re winning or getting a gold star,” she explained.

“We had to find subtle ways to include health messages so they don’t turn people off from playing, so the medical team ran 10 focus groups with 120 people to find out what worked and what didn’t.”

The team’s research is now being incorporated within teaching at Kingston University, as part of digital smoking cessation intervention work led by associate professor Dr Darrel Greenhill. Students on the University’s postgraduate game development courses are helping build the next upgrade for the app, using analytics gathered from users to inform improvements to gameplay – with the aim of providing more personalised support to help smokers quit.

“It’s really good experience for our Masters students to be able to work together on projects such as this as part of their digital studio practice module,” said Dr Greenhill, course director for the University’s game development programmes. “Our courses have been developed in consultation with representatives from the likes of Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe and Telefonica Europe. This insight, along with the opportunity to work with clients on real-world game development, helps provide them with the vital skills needed when seeking employment in the digital media industry.”

In January – a key time for smokers to make the resolution to quit – the team will begin a three-month pilot study with app users to evaluate its effectiveness. “The next step for us is to prove quit rates,” Ms Caton said. “We’ve had people smoking 25 cigarettes a day quit, some who’ve gone from 25 to four. It shows it can be effective but we need to get the analytics into the app to get more data and that’s something we’re working on now.”

Revealed: 90% of vaping shops served a child in a sting operation

An undercover trading standards operation found 90 per cent of vaping shops visited in Sandwell sold nicotine-inhaling products to an underage volunteer.

Out of ten shops visited by the volunteer for Sandwell Trading Standards, nine sold them products containing nicotine, such as e-cigarettes and e-liquids.

Council Trading Standards officers are advising retailers to be vigilant and responsible when selling e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine, applying the same checks as they do to the sale of any other age-restricted products.

In response to the investigation’s findings, cabinet member for public health and protection, Councillor Preet Gill, said: ”Clearly this is an unacceptable result. It’s important that retailers have procedures in place to ensure they do not break the law.

“Research suggests that e-cigarettes could act as a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes and the long-term health effects of using an electronic cigarette are still unknown.”

Bob Charnley, Trading Standards and Licensing manager, said: “It’s our job to protect children by ensuring that businesses are aware of the changes in law and understand their responsibility to ensure such products are not sold to minors.”

He added: ”We have written to all the offending businesses reminding them of their legal obligations and that a further failure may result in enforcement action such as a criminal prosecution.”

This is despite it having been illegal to sell nicotine-inhaling products to anyone under 18 from October 1, 2015.

Retailers caught flouting the law could face a fine of up to £2,500, as well as a criminal record.

It has not yet been revealed which shops were caught out in the sting in Sandwell.

The ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) charity, which seeks to cut tobacco use, said about 2.8m adults in Great Britain use e-cigarettes. That is up from 700,000 four years ago. Users include 1.4m smokers and 1.3m former smokers.

But only 15 per cent of the public surveyed that e-cigarettes are ‘a lot less harmful’ than smoking.

Anybody who is unclear about the law should contact Sandwell Trading Standards on 0121 569 6580.


What are the new laws on cigarette and tobacco packaging and why are companies like Marlboro being stripped of their branding?

Familiar brands are soon to be a thing of the past with new laws set to come into force this year

CIGARETTES and tobacco products have already been hidden away behind the counter in an effort to stop people taking up smoking and help them quit the dangerous habit.

And this year new laws come into force meaning packets will lose their colourful packaging – including iconic brands such as Marlboro.

Here’s what the new laws mean and why they are being brought in.

Why plain cigarette packaging?

The aim of the laws are simple – to cut the number of people taking up smoking by making it less appealing to children and young people.

According to Cancer Research, two-thirds of smokers start before the age of 18 – the beginning of an addiction which will kill up to 2 in 3 long-term smokers.

Two-thirds of smokers start before they are 18, according to Cancer Research

Several studies have shown standard packs change attitudes and beliefs around smoking by reducing its appeal and making health warnings more prominent.

It is also believed to stem myths that some lighter-coloured packs are less harmful as they contain lower tar.

Standard packs also appear to be supported by most people, with a survey by YouGov in January 2015 revealing 72% support for standard packs compared to just 15% against.

When will the law come into force?

Technically, the law came into force on May 20 2016, but companies were given a 12-month grace period to sell their old packs and bring in standardised packaging.

From May this year, anyone caught selling non-plain packs will face severe penalties.

Has it been introduced anywhere else?

Australia has had standardised packs since December 2012, and figures suggest smoking has declined since then.

The number of daily smokers is reported to have fallen by 3% since 2010 to just 13% of the population.

France has also banned branded packs, with laws coming into force on January 1.

What will new plain cigarette packs look like?

All packs will be a single colour “opaque couche” – a muddy green – described as the world’s ugliest colour.

Brand names will be written in standard font, size and location on the pack, with health warnings covering at least 65% of the box, on the front, back and top.

And there will be no side-sliding packs.

Are there any other changes?

Menthol cigarettes are being banned from 2020, as well as 10-packs because the boxes are too small to carry a big enough health warning.

Rolling tobacco will only be allowed in packs of 30g or more.

How have tobacco companies reacted?

Four of the world’s biggest tobacco firms launched a last-ditch legal bid against the move, but it failed.

They claimed the new regulations violated several UK and EU laws and would destroy their property rights by making products indistinguishable from each other.

They also claimed there was a lack of evidence that plain packaging would deter smokers.

Smokers’ rights group Forest also said the new rules “treat adults like children and teenagers like idiots”.

Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International appealed the laws in the High Court last year.

But Mr Justice Green dismissed all their grounds, saying: “The regulations were lawful when they were promulgated by Parliament and they are lawful now in the light of the most up-to-date evidence.”

I’ll say it again: E-cigarettes are still far safer than smoking

Despite evidence suggesting e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking, more people than ever believe them to be just as harmful. Professor Linda Bauld discusses the evidence

January is a time for New Year’s resolutions and if you’re one of the world’s one billion smokers, your resolution may be to stop smoking. For some people, this year’s quit attempt might involve an electronic cigarette, and a recent study in England, published in the BMJ, suggested that these devices helped at least 18,000 smokers to stop in 2015 who would not otherwise have done so. That’s very good news, but will there be as many quit attempts in 2017 as there have been in the past with e-cigarettes? I’m not so sure.

Since I last wrote about e-cigarettes in this column one year ago, headlines about the dangers of these devices have continued to appear and show no sign of abating. The result is clear. More people believe today, compared with a year ago, that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking. In fact these incorrect perceptions have risen year on year, from fewer than one in ten adults in Great Britain in 2013 to one in four this past summer. Surveys of smokers show similar patterns, with an increasing proportion believing that e-cigarettes are more or equally harmful than tobacco.

Yet we know that these harm perceptions are wrong. There is now very strong evidence, from a range of studies, that vaping – inhaling nicotine without the combustion involved in smoking – is far less risky than smoking cigarettes. Just a few months ago this body of evidence was brought together by the Royal College of Physicians who published an authoritative report analysing dozens of studies and concluded that the hazard to health arising from long term vapour inhalation from e-cigarettes is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco. The RCP, and since then other UK doctor’s organisations such as the Royal College of General Practitioners, have made clear that it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes, along with other non-tobacco nicotine products (like Nicotine Replacement Therapy such as gum or inhalators) to smokers who are trying to quit. The work of these organisations is underpinned by a consensus statement endorsed by many of the main health charities and public health bodies in the UK. They agree that vaping is safer than smoking, and while these products are not risk free and should not be promoted to children or never smokers, they have a legitimate and positive role to play in tobacco control.

But this consensus is not shared around the world. The regular stream of media scare stories driving harm perceptions often originates in other countries where there is no such view about relative risks. Some media headlines are driven by poor science but others originate from reports by credible organisations who focus on the absolute risk of any e-cigarette use without comparing it to smoking (which is uniquely deadly and kills one in two regular users). 2016 saw at least two major reports of this kind.

In September the World Health Organisation published a report that set out a series of steps on e-cigarette regulation for countries signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global public health treaty. These options were primarily about banning or severely restricting the sale, distribution and marketing of e-cigarettes. The WHO report was comprehensively critiqued by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, but its findings mean that e-cigarettes will continue to be unavailable to millions of smokers in many countries who have banned these devices or are considering doing so.

December 2016 saw the publication of a review authored by the US Surgeon General, which focused on e-cigarette use in young people. This described e-cigarette use as a public health concern, arguing that e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product amongst US youth and that nicotine use in any form is unsafe for young people and also pregnant women. While some of the science in the report is accurate, the conclusions endorsing heavy regulation of e-cigarettes were not. The report did not compare the risks of smoking and vaping, failed to make clear that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products, and drew conclusions about nicotine that would also apply to Nicotine Replacement Therapy – which is safe and licensed for use in pregnancy and by young smokers. It also endorsed policies which could deter current smokers from switching to e-cigarettes. American scientists have critiqued data from the USA that provided the basis for the Surgeon General’s report, but it is likely that this publication will contribute to public perceptions that e-cigarettes are dangerous.

These two reports largely ignore the fact that there are already measures in place in many countries (including all of the EU) to protect the public from any risks from e-cigarettes. These include policies like age of sale, limits on advertising and child- and tamper-proof packaging – all important to protect children while still allowing sales to adult smokers and ex-smokers. Concerns about exploding batteries and nicotine poisoning can also be dealt with by following simple safety rules, such as those set out by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

I believe that e-cigarettes have huge potential to save lives by providing an alternative to smoking. Yet this can only be realised if we address negative harm perceptions and communicate honestly with the public. Ongoing research can help with this, and 2016 has seen the start of important studies, many commissioned by Cancer Research UK, which will tell us more in the future. We also need to keep our eye on new technology, such as heat not burn tobacco products, which are emerging and about which we know little. Only time will tell whether the UK’s positive approach towards e-cigarettes strikes the right balance between risks and benefits. For now, however, we must do all we can to encourage smokers to try to stop at New Year or any other time. For those trying with e-cigarettes, this is a positive choice that should be supported.

Linda Bauld is Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling, Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and holds the CRUK/BUPA Chair in Behavioural Research for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK. She is a former scientific adviser on tobacco control to the UK government and chaired the NICE guidance group on tobacco harm reduction.