Britain is to follow Australia’s lead and introduce plain packaging in mid-2016 with public health advocates suggesting the majority of Europe could likewise ban tobacco branding within five years.
The British parliament’s lower house on Wednesday passed regulations mirroring Australia’s world-leading legislation which came into effect in late 2012.
Prime Minister David Cameron voted in favour of the change putting to bed an issue which has dogged him for two years.
The Tories were savaged for shelving plain packaging in mid-2013 after hiring Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby whose consultancy firm had previously worked for tobacco giant Philip Morris.
It was only after months of criticism that the government backflipped by re-committing to its initial plan.
A spokesman for Mr Cameron on Wednesday said: “The prime minister voted in favour of this change. He is pleased that it has gone through.”
The regulations were passed by a majority of 254 votes after being backed by 367 MPs in the House of Commons.
In a conscience vote, more than 100 Conservative MPs voted against plain packaging along with three members of the Labour Party, two Liberal Democrats, both Ukip MPs and two members of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The British Heart Foundation described Wednesday’s win as a “landmark victory that will save thousands of lives”.
“Evidence shows that standardised packs are working in Australia to make smoking less attractive and we are delighted it will now be implemented here,” chief executive Simon Gillespie said in a statement.
“This is a significant step forward on the path to a smoke-free UK.”
The legislation allowing the regulations was passed in early 2014 after the government – rather than suffer a potential defeat – adopted a cross-party amendment in the House of Lords.
Action on Smoking and Health chief executive Deborah Arnott says there’s “no doubt” plain packaging will now pass the upper house early next week.
Ireland earlier this month became the first country in Europe to ban brands and France is in the process of passing its own laws too.
Along with the UK they’ll introduce plain packaging from May 20 next year to coincide with the deadline for European Union member states to introduce large health warnings on all cigarette packs.
But Ms Arnott thinks there’s now momentum for many more countries to ban brands altogether.
“Once you’ve got the UK and France you’ve two of the largest and most powerful members of the EU going ahead so others will follow,” she told AAP.
“Norway is talking about doing it as well and it’s under discussion in Turkey.”
The public health advocate suggested that within five years “you could see the majority of the population of Europe having plain packaging”.
Philip Morris spokesman James Barge on Wednesday said the tobacco giant would seek compensation for the “irrational and unnecessary attack on private property that vilifies products that well-informed adults choose to buy”.
But cigarette companies, including Philip Morris, failed in their numerous legal challenges against Australia’s plain packaging laws.
The UK government pledged in late 2013 to follow Canberra’s lead but only after examining how the change had affected smoking rates Down Under.
Leading pediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler visited Australia in early 2014 to study how banning brands had changed smoking habits and concluded “branded packaging contributes to increased tobacco consumption”.