A flawed policy?

Counterfeit: Plan packaging will lead to the rise in fake cigarettes, says the region's packaging alliance chief
Counterfeit: Plan packaging will lead to the rise in fake cigarettes, says the region's packaging alliance chief
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Mike Ridgway of the Consumer Packaging Manufacturers Alliance responds to calls in Lancashire for plain tobacco packaging

Contrary to the recent coverage of Tobacco Free Futures, which has been using young people to promote its quest for standardised packaging for tobacco products, there is no evidence that plain packaging leads to reduce smoking rates or the uptake of smoking particularly by young people.

The evidence coming out of Australia, the only country in the world to have introduced plain packaging in December 2012, is that it is not working and that smoking levels amongst adolescents and young adults has actually increased.

Up-to-date information about the first year in Australia shows that tobacco sales volumes increased by 59 million sticks and there is strong evidence of consumers shifting to lower priced brands and less expensive hand rolled tobacco.

Significantly, Government data showed smoking prevalence amongst adolescents and young adults has increased by 1.3 percentage points since the introduction of plain packaging.

So the policy is not working and is having unfortunate unintended consequences.

As someone who has worked in the packaging industry for over 40 years and is now Director of the Consumer Products Manufacturing Alliance, it is known that the introduction of plain packaging in the UK would lead to a collapse in the value of a hi-tech packaging sector that is currently worth many hundreds of millions of pounds to the UK economy as well as employing within the total supply chain over 60,000 people.

Commoditising a whole product category would remove the need for a series of highly skilled printing and packaging techniques that currently support jobs, flourishing apprenticeship schemes and valuable export business to the UK economy.

Not only this but it is clear to all of those who work in this industry that easy to copy packs will increase the number of fake and counterfeit cigarettes on our streets, sold by criminals to anyone who will buy at most likely at a very cheap price.

You can put all the security features you like on legal packs but if at the same time we cut criminals’ costs by giving them just one pack design to copy rather than many hundreds of designs, then its criminals that win.

The latest available statistics from HM Revenue & Customs in “Measuring Tax Gaps” published in October 2014 back this up. In 2013-14 HMRC’s mid-range estimate was that around 10 per cent of manufactured cigarettes and 39 per cent of the hand rolling tobacco market were now illegal. However, HMRC estimate that potentially as much as 14 per cent of manufactured cigarettes and 43 per cent of hand rolling tobacco could be illicit (the “upper estimate”). Both the mid-range and upper estimates indicate that illicit tobacco has increased since 2012-13. The potential cost to the taxpayer is £2.1bn.

The packaging industry questions a policy of plain packaging when there are alternative options which have been shown to be effective and which organisations like Tobacco Free Futures should be championing.

It would be a mistake to blight a sophisticated high-tech section of the UK’s manufacturing base by adopting a policy that has failed to improve public health, loses the exchequer revenue and in fact may have the opposite effect by opening up further the illicit supply chain.