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Standardised tobacco packs “will not increase illegal market"

Date published: 16 October 2013


The strategic lead for tackling illegal tobacco in the North West sent a clear message to peers in Westminster this week that introducing plain, standardised packaging would not make it easier to produce counterfeit products.

Pete Astley MBE – who works for Trading Standards North West and is a renowned expert on international intellectual property crime – spoke to peers on Tuesday (15 October 2013), at a special briefing event organised by Cancer Research UK in London to discuss a cross party amendment to the Children and Families Bill.

The Bill is designed to protect children from unnecessary harm, and a change could see the introduction of standardised packs for tobacco products.

Mr Astley MBE said: “There is no evidence standardised packs will increase the illegal tobacco market. Criminals can already copy the most complicated design of cigarettes, hair straighteners or trainers. Standardised packs would still have special coded identifiers which we use now so enforcement teams can tell legal from illegal tobacco”.

According to new research from HM Revenue & Customs, in 2012/13 an estimated 9% of cigarettes consumed in the UK were illicit compared to 9% in 2010/11 and 7% in 2011/12. Meanwhile, tobacco tax revenues have also continued to rise.

The tobacco industry and its front groups regularly publish information claiming to show that illicit trade is rising rapidly: these claims have yet again been shown to be false. The industry has also been claiming that standardised packaging could increase illicit trade, although all the key security features on current packaging would also be on standardised packs.”

Mr Astley, along with North West partners including Tobacco Free Futures, has helped to successfully drive down illegal tobacco use in the region.

Andrea Crossfield, Tobacco Free Futures Chief Executive said: "Although illegal tobacco is still a problem in some areas, we have seen a real fall in the overall market in the North West and nationally over the last decade.

“Tightening up the supply of illegal tobacco at EU level has had a major impact, but also at local level, campaigns and awareness about the problems illegal tobacco causes means that fewer people now see illegal tobacco as a victimless crime.

“New research suggests that standardised packaging would reduce the appeal of cigarettes, enhance health warnings on packs and address misleading smokers about product harm, especially for young people.”

Standardised packaging was controversially shelved in May this year as the relationship between David Cameron and his key strategist Lynton Crosby – whose consultancy firm works for the tobacco industry – was questioned.

A separate change to the Bill could also see an end to smoking in cars carrying children.

 

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