PLANS for cigarettes to be sold in plain packets have been slammed by a North West MEP.

Paul Nuttall, UKIP deputy leader, believes the idea would not deter people from smoking and could lead to the number of counterfeit cigarettes increasing.

He also thinks that new laws stopping shops from having tobacco on display will do little to reduce the number of teenagers taking up the habit.

Mr Nuttall's comments come as a public consultation on plain packaging starts this week.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said he would be keeping an "open mind" on the issue of stripping cigarette packets of branding.

Mr Nuttall said: "If those behind the idea think it will deter smokers they need to think again.

"In fact research shows that ironically it is more likely to lead to more tobacco consumption.

"A report by consultancy London Economics following an online poll of 3,000 UK residents shows that removing brand imagery leads consumers to shift their preferences away from premium brands towards cheaper alternatives.

"This in turn would make cigarettes more affordable and consumption would rise.

"It is also feared that plain packaging will be easier to counterfeit and the black market will increase.

"Instead of trying to deter youngsters from taking up the habit by changing packaging it would be better to concentrate on education.

"And I do not think that the ban on displaying tobacco products in large stores will prevent under-age smoking either.

"Hiding cigarettes behind a cabinet where the display is revealed only when a customer makes a purchase runs the risk of driving up teenage demand.

"I worry where this nanny state will end. How long will it be before alcohol or even sugary foods, such as cake and chocolate, are also placed in closed cabinets?"

Health campaigners have welcomed the proposals and a recent opinion poll also found strong support.