Tobacco could be sold in plain packets by 2015 in the UK after what appears to be a major Government U-turn.

An independent review of tobacco packaging was announced today and laws banning branding on cigarette packets will be enacted if the report finds sufficient evidence to support it.

In July, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted to review all the evidence from Australia, where there have now been plain tobacco packs for a year, before making any decisions.

The review is due to report back in March 2014 and would look into whether standardised packaging is likely to have an effect on public health, particularly in relation to children.

It marks a blow for independent retailers, after repeated warnings by industry leaders that plain packs will be ineffective in reducing smoking rates and will do much to boost the illicit trade in counterfeit and smuggled tobacco.

A study by KPMG concluded last month that smoking rates in Australia had risen since the introduction of plain packs and that the illicit trade Down Under has boomed, growing from 11.8% of the total market to 13.3%.

It comes a week after tobacco supplier JTI unveiled a test-purchase pilot scheme in the north-west of England to educate retailers and improve standards of responsible retailing.