The debate has been raging for some time, and with the laws on smoking becoming increasingly stringent, the latest one looks set to be introduced in the near future. Ministers have said that MP's will be asked to vote before May's general election, on a law that aims to introduce plain cigarette packaging by 2016. There has been talk about changing the way cigarettes are sold in the UK for some time, but this is the first official step towards doing so. Should the plan be approved, the question will immediately turn to whether it will be successful in reducing the number of smokers in the UK.

When the smoking ban was introduced in England on July 1 2007, there was an outcry by the public and fear among business owners. The (smoking) public viewed the change as discriminatory, while pub and restaurateurs feared business suffer as a consequence of the smoking policy. Of course, those fears and views were allayed within weeks, as the people became used to the new legislation and business continued as it always had. The most important effect of the ban was that it did lead to a reduction in smokers in certain regions, data from the north east of England indicated that in 2007, 27% of adults smoked, but that by 2011, that rate was reduced to 21%.

Plain packaging is not a new concept however, it has in fact been in place in other countries for some time.

Australia has been at the forefront of anti-smoking legislation for several years, it introduced its first health warning on cigarette packets back in 1973. It was also one of the first countries to print graphic images on packs back in 2006 and those horrifying pictures covered 30% of the front of the pack and 90% of the back.

In December 2012, Australia became the first nation to ban all forms of branding logos, colours and promotional texts of any kind on cigarette packaging. Australia remains the only country in the world to have introduced such legislation. So the question that everybody will be asking, and certainly politicians in the UK will want to know the answer to, have all these regulations been effective down under?

In short, the answer is yes. Australia has pioneered anti-smoking laws and has certainly been successful in its mission to reduce smokers so far. Studies in Australia indicate that in 2001, the percentage of adult smokers was in the region of 25%. However, with the introduction of the various smoking bans across the country, this figure had dropped to 18% by 2011 and then 15% in 2012 when plain packaging came into effect. Australia now hopes to reduce this figure even further, with the target being 10% by 2018.

Because Australia is the only country to have passed such a law, the UK can only look to this as an example of the effect of plain packaging, and no doubt they have. If the numbers are anything to go by, it is hard to argue against the introduction of such a policy. Especially because the numbers essentially highlight a bigger picture, a general improvement in the health of the population, something that will in turn lighten the burden on healthcare in the UK.