The packaging proposals are dangerous and unprecedented

Mike Ridgway
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In addition to being heavy handed and without giving due consideration to previous regulation introduced into the sector, this legislation would give the UK a reputation as a bad place to do business, making it harder to attract investment. The proposal is also an open invitation to black market trade.

The tobacco sector is a prime example of this. A recent letter in The Times, signed by 23 former senior police officers, strongly reiterated the view that the introduction of plain packaging would encourage organised criminals to move into this area and sell these products to the unsuspecting public. Plain packaging would be far easier to copy and consumers would become less interested in whether goods were genuine or aware if they contained non-tobacco or even toxic substances.

It would not only erode volumes for bona fide producers and retailers (particularly small shops), but would also reduce government tax revenues, boost the criminal economy, stretch law enforcement agencies and present an increased health risk.

Additionally, by removing the sophisticated techniques used in tobacco packaging, price would be the only competitive factor in the market. So, ironically, these changes would have the effect of lowering selling prices, which could actually encourage levels of consumption to increase to the most vulnerable.

Young people would be able to access tobacco products with much more ease as the black market operates at car boot sales, unauthorised street markets, pub car parks and the like.

Furthermore, the proposals could also lead to an increase in intellectual property crime and counterfeiting due to the ease with which unbranded packaging could be copied.

Highly skilled workforces, many apprentice-trained, using sophisticated printing and packaging equipment could be lost and large sections of business would no longer be productive.

While plain packaging is of massive and immediate concern to the many small and medium-sized companies involved in the tobacco supply chain, it is the precedent it would set for other sectors that we see as extremely dangerous in the longer-term. With legislation around minimum alcohol pricing in the pipeline, and high-profile debates about a ‘fat tax’ and calls for cigarette-style health warnings on alcohol and junk food, brand owners and manufacturers have to open their eyes to the very realistic threat of plain packaging.

These proposals, if enacted, would have a fundamental impact across many industries including design, innovation, packaging material suppliers, retail, transport and distribution. Print and printed packaging products – including film, paper , folding cartons, composite drums, corrugated cases, plastics and tins – as a whole would be the number one target, and greatly affected.

That is why, after 40 years in the industry, I am acting as spokesman for five companies – Chesapeake Branded Packaging, API Foils, Weidenhammer Packaging, Payne and Parkside Flexibles – to try and stop this dangerous and unprecedented proposal.

- Mike Ridgway, head of group lobbying against plain packaging and ex-Weidenhammer UK managing director

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