Proposals on plain packaging only good for smugglers, retailers warn
RETAILERS and tobacco firms have told the government a proposed ban on cigarette branding will do nothing for public health but play into the hands of criminals.
After the Chantler Review concluded that plain pack restrictions would be “highly likely” to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking, the Coalition Government triggered a short consultation period and sought views on standardised packs for tobacco products.
To date on-pack branding has been banned in just one major market, Australia.
However, responding as part of the six-week consultation on the proposals, opponents have questioned health evidence, warned of rewarding smugglers, and slammed plans to throw retailers in prison if they don’t comply.
The Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance said it had received over 3,700 letters and postcards from independent retailers concerned about the effect on business.
Blackburn shopkeeper Suleman Khonat, national spokesman of the TRA, said: “It will boost tobacco smuggling here in the UK which will mean sales lost by legitimate retailers.
“Those under 18 will have greater access to tobacco than ever as smugglers don’t mind the age of their customers.
“Smuggling brings criminal activity to our communities and funds organised crime. Where are the positives in this scenario?”
In its submission, Imperial Tobacco said evidence from Australia has shown the measure to be “ineffective and counterproductive”, with illicit trade increasing by 20%.
“Plain packaging is illegal, unnecessary and will be damaging for UK business,” said head of UK corporate and legal affairs Colin Wragg.
Daniel Torras, managing director of JTI, UK said: “Far from showing that plain packaging has caused a ‘huge drop’ in smoking in Australia, the latest government data shows that the rate of decline in smoking from 2010 to 2013 was consistent with the pre-existing trend and whilst it is impossible to tell whether caused by plain packaging, youth smoking increased in the same period.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Grocers’ Federation has slammed proposals to impose prison sentences on retailers who are deemed to have committed offences under the regulations.
“The proposals to criminalise retailers are totally disproportionate,” said policy and public affairs manager John Lee.
“The Department of Health must drastically rethink these proposals.”
On the other side of the argument standardised packaging is backed by the Smokefree Action Coalition, an alliance of over 250 organisations including medical Royal Colleges and charities.
Campaigners say they have the public behind them and many are pushing for a vote in parliament before the general election in 2015.
“No-one but the tobacco industry and the front groups it funds wants to see another generation of children and young people start to smoke,” claimed Baroness Claire Tyler, president of the National Children’s Bureau.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of health campaign ASH Scotland, said: “We need strong plain packaging regulations to be implemented swiftly.
“Tobacco companies oppose plain packs for the same reason that we support them, because they understand that reducing the appeal of tobacco will mean fewer of our children starting to smoke. That is something we should all welcome.”