Nearly 80,000 children have started smoking while health ministers dither over plain packaging, pressure groups said today.
Almost six months after a consultation ended on whether to introduce no-frills cartons, the Con-Dems have failed to submit their own decision.
The Smokefree Action Coalition said that during this six-month delay around 78,500 children had taken up smoking - an estimated 430 every day.
Tobacco companies have frequently denied their logos and colourful packages lure children into smoking and have bitterly fought the ban, insisting it would represent theft of their intellectual property.
Meanwhile industry-backed lobby groups have claimed plain packaging would slow sales.
But Action on Smoking and Health's Deborah Arnott said the evidence was clear for ASH, the British Medical Association and other coalition members - children were attracted to branding and bright colours.
"It's been six months since the consultation closed and the clock is ticking.
"Every day, hundreds more children take up smoking - children who need protecting from tobacco industry marketing," she said.
The Royal College of Physicians' president Sir Richard Thompson said: "As a young doctor I was depressed to see so many patients in their 50s and 60s suffering because they had started smoking as children."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said it was still "carefully collating and analysing" responses.
"Any decisions to take further action will be taken only after full consideration of the consultation responses, evidence and other relevant information."
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