A vote on introducing plain cigarette packaging will be held by the Government before the election, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison has announced.
She said the current “comprehensive” approach was working well, but insisted it was important not to be complacent.
In an unusual move, Ms Ellison used an evening adjournment debate in the Commons to announce that regulations enforcing plain packaging would be laid before Parliament in time to be agreed by both Houses before Parliament is dissolved at the end of March.
The regulations enact plain packaging which was legislated for in the Children and Families Act 2014.
The ban on smoking in private cars will come into force on October 1 of this year, the minister also announced.
During an adjournment debate in the Commons, Ms Ellison said tobacco caused around 80,000 deaths a year and that around 600 children in the UK take up smoking every day.
The Government was committed to reducing the numbers of young people who take up smoking, she went on, but had been taking its time to consider all of the relevant evidence, including the prospect of litigation from the tobacco industry.
Ms Ellison told MPs: “We cannot be complacent. We all know the damage smoking does to health.
“This Government is completely committed to protecting children from the harm that tobacco causes.
“That’s why I’m announcing today that we will be bringing forward legislation for standardised packaging before the end of this Parliament.
“I would like to reassure the House I will provide further details about the introduction of this policy in due course.”
On smoking in private cars carrying children, Ms Ellison added: “The regulations have been considered by the scrutiny committees and I expect we will have a date for the debate soon.
“It is not my desire people should be fined as a result of ignorance and I want to make sure as many people as possible are aware of the new policy.”
The Public Health Minister added: “Legislation or even new laws on packaging will not solve all of the problems relating to tobacco.
“We will bring regulations before Parliament in this Parliament and should Parliament support this measure, we will be bringing the prospect of this country’s first smoke-free generation one decisive step closer.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said there were not yet specific dates for debates and votes on the regulations a nd she said the adjournment debate was simply an opportune moment to announce the policy once the subject had been set.
Reacting to the news, Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said: “I welcome the Government’s backing for this policy.
“I have reviewed all the evidence, and agree that standardised packaging would be a positive move for public health, particularly the role it could play in helping to prevent the uptake of smoking by children.
“We have seen smoking rates decline, but smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable mortality.
“We need to keep up our efforts on tobacco control and standardised packaging is an important part of that.”