The British government on Friday announced that plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes in the UK have been postponed, sparking an angry response from health campaigners.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told lawmakers in a written statement that the decision had been delayed because the government wants more time to see how a similar system in Australia works before committing to such a policy.

The plan aimed to discourage young people from buying cigarettes by making the packets less attractive and strip any glamour from smoking.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar condemned the decision, saying there was "strong evidence" that cigarette packaging influenced children to take up smoking.

"The decision is as much about politics and as much about the profits of the tobacco industry and, frankly, less about the implications for the health of the British public," he told BBC radio.

Conservative Party lawmaker Sarah Wollaston, a former family doctor who is strongly in favour of plain packaging, bitterly criticised the decision.

"RIP public health. A day of shame for this government; the only winners big tobacco, big alcohol and big undertakers," she wrote on her Twitter feed.

The government is reportedly be worried about the impact on jobs that any ban on branded packaging might have and keen to focus on core issues such as boosting the economy.

Australia introduced a law forcing tobacco firms to sell cigarettes in plain packets in December 2012, becoming the first country in the world to do so.

All cigarettes there are now sold in identical, olive-brown packets bearing the same typeface and largely covered with graphic health warnings.