Charity NICHS urges MLAs to back plain cigarette packaging
A health charity has written to Northern Ireland's MLAs urging them to back plain packaging for cigarettes.
The assembly is to vote later on a motion that would extend a Westminster bill to Northern Ireland.
The Children and Families Bill, which becomes law on Wednesday, will remove branding from cigarette packaging.
Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS) said the measure would help stop children take up smoking.
Failure to support the motion would leave Northern Ireland as the only area of the UK where tobacco manufacturers would be able to continue using branding.
NICHS chief executive Andrew Dougal said: "It is imperative that our MLAs seize this opportunity to enable the introduction of standardised tobacco packaging in Northern Ireland.
"A major review of 37 studies into the likely impact of plain tobacco packaging has shown that branding distracts from the health warnings on cigarette packets.
"It also found that young people found standardised packs less attractive than the branded versions.
"If this motion does not pass, our assembly will have failed Northern Ireland's children."
Meanwhile, an Ulster Unionist MLA has backed a call from NICHS to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s in Northern Ireland.
Roy Beggs, the party's health spokesman, said: "It is recognised that nicotine in any form has adverse health effects and therefore it is important that our young people do not become addicted whilst unaware of the risks involved.
"I believe Northern Ireland should follow the Westminster proposal to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s in England, and by many schools in the US to ban it on their premises, in order to ensure that our young people are not taking up a habit which may unwittingly act as a stepping stone to the real thing."