Plain packaging of cigarettes will put the police force under undue pressure by increasing the supply of counterfeit cigarettes on the market, a group of former policemen has warned. In a letter to the Telegraph, the 16 former senior officers criticise the government for “choosing to move ahead with the standardisation of tobacco packaging when there appears to be very little reported evidence that the policy works”.
Last month Conservative junior health minister Jane Ellison revived plans to introduce plain packaging before the general election in response to a Scottish Labour initiated vote on smoking. The plan was immediately met with criticism both from without and within her own party. Conservative cabinet ministers Sajid Javid and Philip Hammond both signalled their intention to vote against the proposals.
Up to 100 Conservative Members of Parliament are also said to be planning to vote against the government on plain packaging, which stipulates that all forms of branding are removed from cigarette packages, to be replaced with gruesome images of tumours and disease.
The measure is designed to stop young people from taking up smoking, but evidence from Australia, where plain packaging was introduced in 2012, suggest that it has actually done the opposite: youth smoking rates rose 36 percent between 2010 and 2013, the last full year for which there are figures.
And the unintended consequences in terms of crime rates have also been disastrous, prompting the group of policemen to put pen to paper.
“Our concern is very much related to the impact this move will have on crime,” they said. “According to the Government’s own figures, tobacco smuggling costs £2 billion per year and those who smuggle tobacco products are often involved in other forms of serious crime.
“Therefore, it makes no sense to introduce legislation that would in effect make tobacco packaging easier to copy and lead to more counterfeit products hitting the streets in Britain. This will place further pressure on law enforcement at a time when resources are already dwindling.”
Signatories to the letter include Sir Ian Johnston, Former Chief Constable of British Transport Police; Mike McAdam, Former Detective Chief Superintendent, C Division; Barry Phillips, Former Detective Chief Superintendent, Flying Squad; and Tony McStravick, Former Detective Chief Superintendent, Fraud Squad as well as a number of officers from fraud squad, flying squad and special branch.
A study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research concluded that plain packaging in Britain would result in “a drop in consumer expenditure on legal tobacco products of between £0.9 and £1.6 billion despite increases of 3 and 7 per cent in legal and overall (legal and illicit) tobacco purchases, respectively,” suggesting that the illicit trade would receive a huge boost.
Nonetheless, a spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs said: “We have seen no evidence to suggest the introduction of standardised packaging will have a significant impact on the overall size of the illicit market or prompt a step-change in the activity of organised crime groups.”