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Tobacco Could Be Forced Into Plain Packaging in the U.K.

In the Fall of 2012, all cigarette brands will be required to have warning labels covering the top half of the pack both front and back.

By the end of 2012, all tobacco products in Australia will be packaged in plain beige wrapping, accompanied by graphic warnings about the dangers of consuming the product. Now, officials in the United Kingdom are considering adopting a similar law of their own to counteract the negative effects of colorful cigarette branding, Medical News reports.

British Health Secretary Andrew Lansley expressed his support for the idea after a recent survey from the British Heart Foundation found that one in six young people in the country make decisions on which brand of cigarette to smoke based on packaging design. Citing government data showing that about 200,000 young people in Britain take up smoking every year, Lansley said discouraging people from smoking is a “public health priority.”

Advertising for tobacco is banned in the country, but many believe the bright and colorful packaging of cigarettes constitutes a form of advertising. The government will begin considering the idea of requiring plain packaging in a public consultation early this year.

If the U.K. decides to go forward with the plan, it could face a barrage of resistance from the tobacco industry, which has already challenged Australia’s new law in court. Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco joined forces to bring the issue to the country’s High Court.

Similarly, lobbying group Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco opposes the hypothetical law, saying that plain packaging would hold little sway in helping young people decide not to smoke.

“There is no evidence that plain packs will make any difference to youth smoking rates,” said Simon Clark, director of the group. “The vast majority of young people are influenced not by packaging but by peer pressure and the fact that members of their family are smokers. Tens of millions of people have been exposed to branded cigarette packaging for decades and have never been encouraged to start smoking. To suggest that people are so easily influenced by the sight of a colored pack is not only patronizing, it’s downright offensive.”

Already, 80,000 Britons die of smoking-related diseases every year, Medical News said.

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