The review, by Sir Cyril Chantler, said plain packs reduced the appeal of cigarettes, and called packaging a “silent salesman”.
He said: “Research cannot prove conclusively that a single measure like standardised packaging of tobacco products will reduce smoking and it is not possible to carry out a controlled trial.
“However, I am satisfied that there is enough evidence to say that standardised packaging is very likely to contribute to a modest but important reduction in smoking. This effect will be optimised if it is part of a wider tobacco control strategy.
“The evidence base is modest and it has limitations, but it points in a single direction, and I am not aware of any evidence pointing the other way.
“Given the dangers of smoking, the suffering that it causes, the highly addictive nature of nicotine, the fact that most smokers become addicted when they are children or young adults and the overall cost to society, the importance of such a reduction should not be underestimated.”
Jane Ellison MP, the parliamentary under-secretary for health, told the House of Commons today (April 3) that the government would draw up draft regulations and hold a short consultation before they are made law – but noted that she wanted to act “as swiftly as possible”.
She said: “It is clear that smoking is a disease of adolescence and we know that across the UK, more than 200,000 children aged between 11 and 15 start smoking every year. In other words, about 600 children start smoking in the UK every day. Many of those children will grow up with a nicotine addiction that they will find extremely difficult to break, and that is a tragedy for those young people, their families and the public health of our nation.
“Sir Cyril points out that if this rate of smoking by children were reduced by even 2%, it would mean that 4,000 fewer children took up smoking each year.
“Sir Cyril’s report makes the compelling case that if standardised packaging were introduced, it would be very likely to have a positive impact on public health, and that the health benefits would include benefits for children.”
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies commented: “The Chantler review only reinforces my beliefs of the public health gains to be achieved from standardised packaging.”
British American Tobacco said it was disappointed with the review.
A spokesman said: “The conclusion that plain packaging is an effective measure for public health defies logic.
“We urge the UK government to look at the data from Australia, where after one year it is clear the plain packaging experiment has failed.
“The data shows that plain packaging has not had a positive effect on public health in Australia. What’s more, the government must consider the wider implications of this policy given the increase in the illicit tobacco market and A$1billion in lost taxes to the Australian government.
“We believe plain packaging fails to respect our minimum guaranteed rights on trade mark protection, contravenes EU law, affects property rights under UK law and infringes the UK’s obligations under international law.
“We are clearly not alone in this view given five sovereign states are all at various stages of challenging Australia’s decision to introduce plain packaging via the World Trade Organisation with 35 countries, the highest ever, expressing an interest to observe and potentially contribute.
“We hope the UK government continues its logical and pragmatic approach by dismissing plain packaging and looking at alternative tobacco control measures following the announced consultation.”