Friday, 30 November 2012

Moving towards the plain packaging of tobacco & cigarettes

I was recently contacted by Tobacco Free Futures regarding the issue of plain packaging for cigarettes. There is a great deal of support in the constituency for the introduction of these measures in the UK, and it is something with which I have a great deal of sympathy – however with all measures, the devil is in the detail. I would not want to exacerbate or create an adverse problem.

The Australian Government passed a bill last year that requires tobacco is sold in olive green boxes with large graphic health warnings. This was based on research which supposedly showed that this colour would be the most off-putting to smokers.

The UK has been very active in the past when it comes to reducing smoking, and the public have broadly backed measures to achieve this. Plain packaging of tobacco could help further reduce the burden of smoking in this country.

I do however have some concerns about the possible impact that plain packaging could have on the amount of counterfeit, smuggled and tax-dodged tobacco that could be on the market.

In my conversations with Trading Standards the amount of illegal tobacco, thought to emanating through Russia on East Lancashire's streets in considerable and rising. These cigarettes are not cigarettes as buyers would expect, they are carcinogenic rolled tobacco that contains other dangerous ingredients, rat poison being probably the worst example. People are foolish if they believe they are saving money. It is worth adding that organised crime appears to be behind their import and those buying them are funding  criminal gangs involved in other illegal activities.

I am therefore concerned that plain packaging is a policy that could be undermined by the fact it could make smuggling and counterfeiting of cigarettes even easier, so if it is introduced, it would need to be done so in concert with other measures.
So while we want to increase public health outcomes through reducing smoking prevalence, we do not want to create a situation where there are more dangerous chemicals common in the tobacco that people are smoking.

Though it has my general support, I think these points are very important when considering plain packaging.