The health secretary Andrew Lansley is considering legislation that would prevent tobacco companies from branding cigarette packets.
A ban on branded boxes could help to disassociate smoking from particular brands, making it a less desirable habit, and discouraging young people from starting.
The government will begin a consultation this week to find out if plain packaging would make smoking less appealing. Mr Lansley said he wished to tackle the problem of under-age smoking, saying that as many as 5 in 100 children aged 5-15 already smoked regularly. However, some research suggests that cigarette packets may actually become a commodity.
Jane Chisholm-Caunt, the general secretary of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, said that plain packaging would make it easier to import and manufacture counterfeit products.
The Australian government plans to ban branded tobacco packaging at the end of 2012, instead putting cigarettes in dark green boxes, a colour chosen by a public poll. Tobacco manufacturers are strongly opposed to the new law, and similar opposition is expected if the UK government followed suit.
A spokesman for the Hands Off Our Packs campaign group said the consultation was likely to be “a farce” and the outcome could already be decided.
The move comes after larger shops were banned from placing cigarettes in a visible location in stores. By 2015, no shops will be permitted to display tobacco products. Vending machines have also been banned in the UK in the hope that this will cut down on the amount of young people obtaining cigarettes illegally.