Plain packaging for cigarettes is about to “go global” in a move that will have a “huge impact” on health, the World Health Organization says.
The body said moves to introduce standardised packaging in the UK, France and Australia will influence policy around the globe.
But the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association said policy was being “driven more by dogma than hard fact”.
Around six million deaths each year are linked to smoking.
Plain, or standardised, packaging has a uniform colour across all brands except for health warnings. Any brand names are in small, non-distinctive lettering.
The premise is that the move kills the glamour and attractiveness of smoking and Benn McGrady, from the WHO, said “the evidence is in” that the measure curbs smoking rates.
Australia introduced plain packs in 2012 and data shows that smoking rates fell by a “very significant” additional 0.55% – the equivalent of 108,000 people – between December 2012 and September 2015, the WHO reports.
Mr McGrady told the Attain Health: “We think the evidence is now so strong that it’s likely we’re witnessing the globalisation of plain packaging – particularly after countries as influential as the UK, France and Australia have implemented the measure.
“There’s massive opposition from the tobacco companies – all of them are opposed to it because it’s going to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use.
“We’re on the cusp of something very big here and it’s going to have quite a significant impact on public health.”
As well as Australia, the UK and France – Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Panama, New Zealand and Belgium are at various stages of considering plain packets.
But Mr McGrady warned they were not a magic solution and needed to work in conjunction with bans on advertising and smoking, along with higher taxes.
Giles Roca, the director general of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, argued anti-tobacco laws were being “driven more by dogma than hard fact and evidence”.
He said: “The evidence from Australia is damning – plain packaging as a measure itself has been proven not to work and has made no impact on long-term smoking trends.
“There has been no acceleration in decline brought about by the policy, whilst the illegal market has increased markedly.
“Simply put, the very same result in terms of smoking rates would have been achieved by doing nothing.”