CHANGING cigarette packaging could save lives in St Helens and boost the town’s economy by more than £2 million, according to Public Health England (PHE).

Figures estimate the introduction of unbranded packaging would see a 3.4 per cent fall in tobacco sales. PHE based their figures on data from Australia, where branded packaging was outlawed in December 2012.

PHE officials calculate that St Helens, where 20 to 30 per cent of the population are thought to smoke, would see £2.2 million injected into the local economy – money that smokers who give up would save and spend elsewhere.

St Helens Council’s cabinet member for public health and wellbeing, Cllr Andy Bowden, said: “Current branding can distract smokers from the serious health warnings that also appear on cigarette packs.

“Attractive packaging helps to portray smoking as something glamorous and harmless - and is one of the key reasons why over 18,000 north west children are tempted to try smoking every year - leading to a lifetime of addiction which ends in death for half of all long-term smokers.”

St Helens Council is firmly in favour of standardising the packaging of cigarettes and tobacco and was one of the first authorities in the country to sign up to a local authority declaration on tobacco and has been working with partners regionally and nationally on this agenda.

St Helens Council’s Director of Public Health, Liz Gaulton, said: “Smoking hits communities with the worst health hardest – and standardised packaging could help us make a real impact in ironing out some of these health inequalities.”