UK mulls blank cigarette packs to reduce smoking

LONDON - Britain could soon force cigarette makers to sell plain, brand-free packets as the government seeks to encourage more smokers to quit.

A three-month consultation launched by the government on Monday will ask for views on whether packets of cigarettes should be changed to a plain, standardised template, remain as they are, or be fashioned in a different way.

The government has already forced manufacturers such as Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco - who share more than 80 per cent of the UK market - to print stark health warnings and images of smoking-related diseases on packs.

A recent move by ministers also required all shops to stop displaying cigarettes in the open by April 2015 to deter would-be buyers.

"Smoking remains one of the most significant challenges to public health," said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in a statement. "Each year it accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK and one in two long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking disease."

"That is why the health ministers across the UK have a responsibility to look closely at initiatives that might encourage smokers to quit and stop young people taking up smoking in the first place."

Health campaigners have welcomed the idea of plain packs but opponents claim it could lead to increased smuggling and job losses.

Despite claims from some opponents that he has already decided to introduce plain packaging, Lansley has repeatedly insisted he is keeping an open mind on the proposal.