A law introducing plain cigarette packaging in England and Wales could come into force in 2016 after ministers said MPs would be asked to vote on the plan before May’s general election.
It follows a series of public consultations on the issue.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told MPs the move was likely to have a positive impact on public health, particularly for children.
Labour has already pledged to ban images on packets if it wins power.
And doctors say the move would save thousands of lives.
BBC health editor Hugh Pym said the changes could come into force as soon as 2016 if Parliament passes legislation before the end of
Ms Ellison said all the evidence pointed to the step having a positive impact – although she warned of a potential legal challenge from the cigarette industry which strongly opposes the move.
“We cannot be complacent. We all know the damage smoking does to health,” she said.
A review of the public health implications of standardised packaging last year by Sir Cyril Chantler concluded it was very likely their introduction would lead to a modest but important reduction in the uptake and prevalence of smoking.
MPs are now expected to be given a free vote on the issue before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election campaign, which begins in April.