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Whitehall to puff punters: 'Hide your fags'

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Death-dealing coffin nails will have to be kept out of sight of impressionable Englishpersons, beginning with large retailers in April 2012 and then in small shops beginning in 2015.

"Over eight million people in England still smoke and it causes more than 80,000 deaths each year," Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said in an emailed statement obtained by Bloomberg. "My ambition is to reduce smoking rates faster over the next five years than has been achieved in the past five years."

Shops in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are off the hook – those governments formulate their own health policies.

Reaction has been mixed. "The government likes to talk about 'freedom' – how about respecting the rights of smokers?" responded Big Brother Watch, a group that "fights injustice and campaigns to protect our civil liberties and personal freedoms," according to its mission statement.

"Under Andrew Lansley," BBW added, "it appears the nanny state is alive and well."

Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association was unhappy as well – but for a different reason: "We are disappointed that [Lansley] has said he will delay introducing the display ban until April 2012 for large shops and April 2015 for smaller ones," she said.

In addition, the UK government will consider requiring that all tobacco products be sold in plain packaging, in order to further ostracize smokers reduce the glamour of flashing a packet of Rothmans.

"It's important to make clear that there is no evidence to suggest that plain packaging would have any impact on smoking uptake by young people," a British American Tobacco spokesman emailed Bloomberg. "If the government insists cigarettes are sold in plain packs, it would be like Christmas for counterfeiters and the criminal gangs who smuggle cigarettes into the UK."

Simon Clark, the director of the pro-smokers lobbying group Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), agreed. "If the government's tobacco control plan goes ahead, Britain will become a smugglers' paradise," he told Bloomberg. "The sale of tobacco will move from responsible, legitimate retailers selling to law-abiding consumers, to irresponsible criminals who won't think twice about selling cigarettes to children."

Regarding the plain-packaging idea, one commenter on the Big Brother Watch website said, reasonably: "As somebody who has never used illegal drugs, I might be wrong but I'm fairly sure they're not provided in colourful packs replete with logos and health warnings. Doesn't seem to deter anybody though does it?" ®

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