There is “no good reason” to believe that introducing plain, standardised cigarette packs will lead to a rise in smuggled tobacco, an influential cross-party group of MPs and peers has said.
Tobacco firms claim that standardised packs will be easier for counterfeiters to copy, leading to an increase in smuggling and, ultimately, job losses in the industry.
Such arguments were dismissed as “tobacco industry propaganda” by Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.
“The tobacco industry knows that standard packs will cut the number of children pulled into this lethal addiction – that’s why they are running an expensive and mendacious campaign to try to scare the Government off,” Mr Williams added.
Existing packaging is already “cheaply and readily” copied, while enforcement agencies do not rely on pack design to test whether packs are illegal, the parliamentary group said.
UK border agency officials use a number of security features to detect illicit tobacco, all of which could also be present on standardised packs.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, said: “This report is further evidence that the tobacco industry should not be listened to when developing health policies aimed at reducing the devastating impact of smoking.
“The most effective way to tackle counterfeit and smuggled tobacco is through coordinated enforcement action with border agencies and trading standards.
“Improvements in controlling the distribution and sale of tobacco are also key. We’ve already achieved success in reducing illicit tobacco in the UK from coordinated action and that must be built upon.”
The Government launched a consultation on plans to introduce mandatory standardised packaging for tobacco products last April.
The consultation closed in August and the information is still being considered by health officials.
As many as 567 children in the UK take up the habit each day, which means more than 75,000 have started smoking since the consultation began, data released last week revealed.
In December, Australia became the first country in the world to introduce standardised packaging, with all tobacco products sold in a single colour, with only the brand name and graphic warnings visible.
The group called on the health secretary to follow Australia’s lead and introduce plain packs in the next parliamentary session.
The level of tobacco smuggling and illegal trade is falling in the UK and uniform packs will have no effect on that downward trajectory, the group said.
But they said the move would discourage many children from starting to smoke, saving the health service vast sums of money.
Mr Williams, MP for Bristol West, said: “The UK has a good record in recent years in tackling the illicit tobacco trade, although it remains a serious challenge.
“Contrary to tobacco industry propaganda there is no good reason to think that standardised packs will increase illicit trade.”
Copyright Press Association 2013