PLAIN PACKAGING: Lancashire shopkeepers lobby MPs over tobacco

lobby: The group of shopkeepers in London and, below, fake cigarette packets

lobby: The group of shopkeepers in London and, below, fake cigarette packets

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Shop owners from across Lancashire travelled to Westminster this week to lobby MPs over plans for plain packaging on tobacco products.

Small retailers from Preston and Blackburn were among 120 traders to voice concerns about plain packaging, which the Government has decided to put to MPs for a free vote, saying the measure was an “illogical and nonsensical proposal” that will only benefit tobacco smugglers.

The National Spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance, Lancashire shopkeeper Suleman Khonat, says: “There is a huge groundswell of opposition to plain packaging amongst small retailers from across the UK. That is why we have taken our campaign directly to Westminster.

“If introduced, plain packaging would undermine legitimate businesses like mine up and down the country because the simple, one-design packs are so easy to counterfeit and would be a boon for the criminals.

“It would also fail to deliver its so-called aim – to deter under-age smoking.”

A joint letter signed by the National Federation for Retail Newsagents (NFRN), Tobacco Retailers’ Association, Petrol Retailers’ Association and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation was handed to the Department of Health calling for a re-think on plain packaging.

Health campaigners, on the other hand, say a ban on ‘glitzy’ attractive packaging would help prevent young people taking up the deadly habit.

Charities like Smokefree Action claim it is a “vital matter of child protection and public health” and that there is no evidence suggesting it increases smuggling.

But as the row continues, so to does the county’s deadly black market trade.

Last week, sniffer dogs helped trading standards officers seize around 50 illicit products from eight shops in Preston during a swoop.

In the last six months alone, officers seized nearly 1,000 products, and in the last year 46 individuals or companies were reported for prosecution involving sales and seizures at 37 premises.