The head of a packaging lobby group has given evidence warning government that standardising tobacco packaging could increase the illicit tobacco trade in the UK.
Appearing before the Chantler Review, an independent review into standardised plain tobacco packaging, Mike Ridgway warned that the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products would result in an increase in the illicit tobacco trade and its associated crimes.
“The UK packaging industry has been saying for some time that the problem of illicit tobacco in this country is getting worse and that a policy of plain packaging for tobacco products would exacerbate this problem,” said Ridgway, ex-managing director of Weidenhammer UK.
“You can put all the security features you like on legal packs and if at the same time we cut criminals' costs by giving them just simple pack designs to copy, rather than the many that include features such as embossing, de-bossing and hot-foil stamping, then it's the criminals that win and fuel the illicit trade through unregulated distribution channels.”
Presenting findings from a range of sources, Ridgway said the potential cost to the government of illicit tobacco trading was estimated at almost £3bn with latest HMRC figures showing that 500m more cigarettes were smuggled into the UK in 2012/13 than the previous year, and 300 more tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco.
He also cited a KPMG study in Australia, Illicit Tobacco in Australia published on 4 November 2013, that revealed Australia’s illegal tobacco market has risen to around 13% of total shipments since the introduction of plain packaging. It also found consumption of tobacco had not decreased since plain packaging took effect in December 2012.
Ridgway said: “The packaging industry questions a policy of plain packaging when there are alternative options that have been shown to be effective. For example, in Germany an extensive programme shows schoolchildren around hospitals to meet people and see first-hand the graphic effects of smoking.
“This has resulted in a dramatic falling-off of smoking take-up by this group without the need for excessive regulation upon which there is no evidence that it is effective.”