The tobacco industry's final legal challenge in the UK to legislation requiring standardised plain packaging for cigarettes failed yesterday, as the UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal a decision upholding the new law.

Companies including British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International challenged the legality of the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015, on the basis that they infringed their intellectual property rights in their brands and would render products indistinguishable from each other.

The regulations, which apply across the UK, will now come into force on 20 May 2017. They make it illegal to sell branded cigarettes. Manufacturers have been phasing out branded packs since May 2016.

Last November the Court of Appeal ruled that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had lawfully exercised his powers, under s 94 of the Children and Families Act 2014, in making the regulations.

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies commented : "Smoking is the biggest preventable killer in this country and this legislation will save lives so I am thrilled that the tobacco industry will not be allowed to appeal.

"After years of hard work, I look forward to seeing this policy now brought in, and smoking numbers fall even further."