STANDARDISING smoking packets in South Gloucestershire would save the region more than £1.7million and Gloucestershire more than £5million, new figures have revealed.

The statistics, from Public Health England, show switching to non-commercial packaging would save the whole Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire region 19.4million in healthcare costs.

The figures follow recent date from Australia, where standardised packaging was introduced in December 2012, showing a 3.4 per cent fall in tobacco sales in the first year. If the same were to happen here, Public Health England estimated that savings in Gloucestershire could reach £5,306,212 and £1,749,312 in South Gloucestershire.

Dr Shona Arora, centre director for the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Public Health England Centre, said: “Smoking remains the biggest cause of premature mortality in England, accounting for 80,000 deaths every year.

“Standardised packaging is a powerful measure that would help to save lives. The evidence from Australia is adding to the substantial and irrefutable case that the absence of attractive packaging works to reduce the number of smokers, as well as encouraging others to cut down.”

She added: “The harms from smoking hit hardest in the more deprived communities.

“Standardised packaging can help us make a real impact on reducing the shocking statistics on health inequalities. And in addition, the savings made on tobacco sales will have a knock on benefit to residents and local economies.

“The introduction of standardised packaging will be a major boost to our tobacco control efforts.”

The organisation says that as retailers earn relatively little profit from tobacco sales, between seven to nine per cent compared to 20 to 30 per cent for food and drink products, money saved by customers from reduced spending on tobacco is likely to be saved or spent elsewhere locally and benefit local businesses more.

Fiona Andrews, director of Smokefree South West, said: “The evidence is in, and it is clear. This shows that the introduction of standard packs is likely to decrease the number of children in the South West starting to smoke.

“Attractive packaging is a key reason why young people are tempted to try smoking which can lead on into a lifetime of addiction, an addiction that ends in death for 1 in 2 of all long-term smokers, as the Smokefree South West campaign Be there tomorrow highlighted.”

In June 2014, the Department of Health published draft regulations for consultation for proposed requirements for the packaging of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. The regulations include proposed policies on the colour of the packet, allowed text and typeface, and requirements for the appearance of individual cigarettes.

The consultation closed on August 7. Powers to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products already exist in legislation.