Almost a year after the Department of Health launched its consultation on plain packs and three months after Australia outlawed branded tobacco, newspaper reports have claimed that Downing Street will press ahead with similar legislation in the UK.

Last week, reports stated that ministers plan to include plain packaging legislation in the Queen’s speech this May and will base the UK’s laws on Australia’s model. In December 2012, tobacco companies in Australia were forced to replace branded boxes with drab olive-green packets emblazoned with graphic images of smoking-related illnesses.

cigs“We are going to follow what they have done in Australia. The evidence suggests it is going to deter young smokers,” a senior Whitehall source was reported to have said. “There is going to be legislation.”  However, many in the tobacco industry said that they were “surprised” by the reports.

Jeremy Blackburn, head of communications at JTI, said: “Those who wish to close down the debate on plain packaging appear to be using the media to pressure the Government into making a decision on a policy, despite there being no credible evidence that it will have any public health benefit.”

Alan Graham of Scandinavian Tobacco told Retail Express: “It isn’t our current understanding that a decision [on plain packaging] has been made, but that the consultation is still being studied.”

BAT’s director of corporate & regulatory affairs Kingsley Wheaton dismissed the reports as “rumours” and highlighted the unintended consequences the legislation could bring. “Ill-thought through regulation brings with it very real threats, such as a rise in the number of smokers willing to turn to the black market,” he said.

Gayatri Barua-Howe, Imperial Tobacco’s UK communications manager, urged local shops to continue to voice their concerns on plain packaging. She said: “It’s vital to be aware that just because the consultation has closed, this does not mean views cannot be expressed to your local MPs who are waiting for the publication of the full report.”

The consultation on plain packaging ended last August, and reports at the time suggested that more than half a million people voiced their opposition to the introduction of plain packs.

A spokesperson for the DoH responded to the newspaper claims by saying that no decisions had yet been made. “We are currently in the process of carefully collating and analysing all the responses received,” the spokesperson said.